The Humanitarian Effectiveness Project

Download the essay ‘On Authority and Trust: A reflection on the effectiveness of disaster management in Bangladesh, India and Nepal’, by Fernando Espada

The humanitarian context in South Asia

In 2014, Monsoon rains were especially intense in South Asia, killing hundreds of people, displacing millions and damaging houses, livestock and infrastructure in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. In Bangladesh, floods affected 20 districts in the northeast and central regions, including some of the hardest to reach and poorest areas of the country. In India, the state of Jammu and Kashmir suffered the worst floods in 50 years, which also affected six other states, as well as North and East Pakistan. In addition, the Indian state of Odisha was hit by cyclone Hudhud months later, forcing a massive evacuation. In Nepal, while floods and landslides were less destructive than in neighbouring countries, the most affected areas in the mid-West were not prepared for an event of such magnitude. In sum, unexpectedly heavy monsoon rains directly affected 13 million people in India, two and a half million in Pakistan, two million in Northern Bangladesh, and almost 180,000 in West Nepal.

As one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world, South Asia is no stranger to natural hazards. Four out of the ten deadliest natural disasters since 1980 have happened in South Asia, including the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the cyclone that devastated Southeastern Bangladesh in 1991, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, and the Nepal earthquake in April 2015. In addition to those large-scale disasters, a multiplicity of medium and small natural disasters has hit the region and continues to do so with increasing frequency. South Asia is also home to protracted conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as a high number of low-intensity ones.

Although South Asia has suffered the largest number of fatalities from natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific region – more than 1 million people between 1970 and 2014 – there is a consistent downward trend since the year 2000. Economic losses from natural disasters in South Asia are considerable – 0.37 percent of Gross Domestic Product between 1970 and 2013 – and have remained unchanged during the last decade, with floods accounting for most of the damage to infrastructures, houses and livelihoods.

During the last two decades, national and regional natural disaster management legislation has been passed, and relevant bodies have been set up and approved across South Asia. As a result, states in the region adopted a more visible role in disaster preparedness, early warning, and response. In addition, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation established the Comprehensive Framework on Disaster Management, the Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters, and the Disaster Management Centre, following the example of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

This process is taking place in a region that for decades has been the destination of considerable flows of foreign aid, and is home or destination for a plethora of international and national aid organisations, among them some of the largest and reputed Southern NGOs.

Last updated May 2016.

Photo credit: Suzanne Lee/Save the Children.

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