Floods are a recurring phenomenon in Bangladesh and the adjoining state of Assam, India. The ongoing large-scale flooding here is not an exception. Floods often trigger landslides and large-scale river-bank erosion. The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2019 classifies them as a multi-hazard risk hotspot where disasters, poverty and environmental degradation intersect.
Is this a climate catastrophe?
The latest IPCC report highlights that every degree rise in temperature translates into a 7 per cent increase in moisture, impacting the South Asian monsoon disproportionately. This year in Assam and adjoining Bangladesh, heavy precipitation began in March, much earlier than the usual onset.
ESCAP analysis indicates that with temperature increases of 1.5°C and 2°C, South Asia will face the highest impact of heavy precipitation, followed by agricultural drought and hot temperatures/ heatwaves. Hence there is a need to boost transformative adaptation action and resilience building measures.
Floods in Assam are a risk multiplier
Assam often faces catastrophic floods. Records from the past five decades note that the state has been hit by floods every year and the number of events per year range from 71-127. In recent years, the floods have intensified, causing high economic losses, and increasing the socio-economic vulnerability of the people.
India’s National Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) baseline report 2021 estimates that 32.7 per cent of Assam’s population already lives in multidimensional poverty and notes poor health, nutrition, education and standard of living. In addition, floods cause small and marginal farmers to lose their harvest, disrupts children’s education and increases transmission of infectious diseases. This subsequently exacerbates the risk of intergenerational poverty.
SDG localization captures intersection of floods and vulnerability in real time
India has developed a comprehensive Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) index for tracking performance on the global goals in all States and Union Territories. These scores for Assam show uneven progress across districts. Further, the districts with high flood vulnerability record relatively lower scores on the climate change and disaster related SDGs.
A snapshot of ongoing floods in Assam during May-June 2022 vis-à-vis SDG scores in the flood affected districts capture the real time vulnerabilities of communities at risk (Figure 1, Figure 2). The SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 13 (Climate Action) scores are especially low for some districts.
Figure 1: Flood hit districts in Assam, as of 25 May 2022
Figure 2: SDG scores (out of 100) for flood affected districts in Assam
Inclusive adaptation is key to building resilient communities
SDG localization offers an insight into the local riskscape, enabling policymakers to take risk-informed, targeted adaptation actions and progress on the global goals. This is crucial as while the risks are global, building resilience must be driven at the community level.
For instance, in Assam, top adaptation priorities should include strengthening early warning systems (EWS), making water resources management more resilient with 5:1 and 4:1 investment benefit-cost ratios respectively. These are followed by making new infrastructure resilient, improving dryland agriculture crop production and nature-based solutions (Figure 3).
Investing in these measures will not only ensure major avoided losses from natural hazards but also yield high economic, social, and environmental benefits. Further, the UN Environment Programme Adaptation Gap Report 2021 notes that globally, four sectors (agriculture, infrastructure, water, and disaster risk management) make up three-quarters of quantified adaptation finance needs.
These are aligned with the suggested adaptation priorities, which are cross-sectoral in nature. For instance, strengthening multi-hazard EWS not only enhances disaster preparedness but also contributes towards developing resilience in agriculture, infrastructure, and water resource sectors.
SDG localization can also effectively inform national as well as local Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategies. This would also enable countries to achieve Sendai Target E that calls to “substantially increase the number of countries with national and local DRR strategies”.
Figure 3: Adaptation Priorities in Assam
To facilitate this process, the ESCAP Risk and Resilience portal presents country risk profiles and associated adaptation priority matrices. It also puts forth analytical assessment on how managing risk can support in accelerating progress on achieving multiple SDGs. This is an effort to boost risk-informed policy-actions to build resilient communities.