A hub for disaster relief in Indian Ocean

17 November 2017 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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This is an abridged version of an address delivered at the 1st International Disaster Convention (Colombo, November 16-18, 2015) pioneered by Training & Consultancy Firm MDF in concert with UNDP and the Disaster Management Centre. Subsequently published as A Hub for Disaster Relief in the Indian Ocean. The Case for Sri Lanka (MDF Asia, Colombo 2015) by Dr. Sinha Raja Tammita-Delgoda and Isuri Kathriarachchi. 

Sri Lanka lies at the very epi-centre of the Indian Ocean. She is perfectly positioned to be a hub for disaster relief across the region

Many Sri Lankan companies are now fully aware of the link between Early Warning and Early Action

The statistics are simple. The logic is obvious. The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) covers about one seventh of the earth’s surface. It also occupies about 20% of the total ocean area. There are nearly 50 states in and around the IOR. These states and regions contain about 2.6 billion people, 39% of the global population.   


Sometimes called the “World’s Hazard belt, the Indian Ocean Region is deeply vulnerable to floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes, tidal surges, landslides and Tsunamis.   


According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (1995), nearly 50% of the world’s natural disasters occur in this region. What happens here affects nearly half the world. 

 Sometimes called the “World’s Hazard belt, the Indian Ocean Region is deeply vulnerable to floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes, tidal surges, landslides and Tsunamis.   

 
Sri Lanka lies at the very epi-centre of the Indian Ocean. She is perfectly positioned to be a hub for disaster relief across the region. It is a role for which she is well equipped. In her hotel sector, her insurance companies, her media and her armed forces, Sri Lanka has shown that she possesses a wealth of expertise and experience.   
Hubs are not all about trade, they denote cooperation, sharing and mutual benefit. They are about being centres, centres of activity and centres of information. Disaster Relief and Management are all about cooperation and working together with every country towards a common human need.   


Now that they have been told so by others, Sri Lankans themselves are now starting to talk about an Indian Ocean future, one which opens up many horizons, far beyond the confines of South Asia. Sri Lanka has the chance to position herself at the very heart of this initiative, to be the central part of a wheel around which everything revolves. As an initiative, it is a country opportunity; one which fulfils a strategic need and serves a national interest.   


In 2009 journalist, writer, and strategic analyst, Robert Kaplan predicted that the Indian Ocean will form the centre of gravity in the coming century, “centre stage for the challenges of the 21st century.” This idea became the foundation of a best selling and deeply influential book, Monsoon: the Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.   
Geologically and tectonically, the Indian Ocean Region is one of the most unstable regions on earth. The African, Indian and Antarctic Plates all converge in the IOR. When they converge these areas experience great earthquakes of huge magnitudes and very often these trigger great tsunamis or marine surges. Tropical cyclones very often ravage the coastal parts of India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Sumatra, Eastern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. In 2007-2008 and 2009 three mega cyclones occurred in the northern Bay of Bengal causing great loss of life and massive destruction in Bangladesh, Myanmar and India. Recurring floods and cyclonic coastal surges are also common phenomena all along the coastal states. On land tornadoes and landslides are also very common and devastating.   

Natural disasters do not follow political boundaries. Therefore early and successful dissemination of information and scientific data among the vulnerable areas can make an immense contribution to the safety of the whole region


The World Index of Vulnerability to Natural Disasters identifies several categories, very high, high and medium. All these countries lie in and around the Indian Ocean.   
The 2014 Climate Change Vulnerability Index identifies Bangladesh, Ethiopia. Cambodia, the Phillipines, nearly all Indian Ocean countries. It also identifies some of the world’s most vulnerable cities. Dhaka Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata, Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta. As Global Warming continues, the frequency, magnitude and severity of these natural disasters are increasing alarmingly and will increase. It is a fact of the future.   


The maps reflecting global risk underline that the highest peril is to developing countries. The states along the rim land areas of the countries in Eastern Africa, Southern Asia and South Asia are mostly poor and developing nations. Maplecroft’s Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas reveals that 31% of global economic output will be based in such countries facing ‘high’ or ‘extreme risks’ from climate change by 2025.   


Apart from its environmental importance, the IOR has tremendous economic significance. Half of the world’s container traffic passes through Indian Ocean and 70% of the World’s Crude and Oil travel along its sea lanes. Nearly 30% of world trade is handled in the ports of the Indian Ocean. The security and safety of the Indian Ocean region is not just a regional issue, it is now a global concern. A natural disaster in the Indian Ocean will affect the global economy 

 
Natural disasters do not follow political boundaries. Therefore early and successful dissemination of information and scientific data among the vulnerable areas can make an immense contribution to the safety of the whole region. There is currently a very serious gap in the data and information relating to international disaster management in this region. To fill this gap we need a research institute which will concentrate on the challenges of climatic change and associated disasters throughout the Indian Ocean. An International Centre of this kind can easily be established here in Sri Lanka. Geography suggests that this is the most convenient and the most logical place. Fitting in with the country’s ambition to become a hub, it is also a way of involving everyone.   
Over the last few years Sri Lanka has built up a wealth of knowledge, resources and skills about how to prepare and cope with disaster. This represents a country opportunity. Not only does resilience have massive cost benefits, it also helps generate new business and wealth. For individuals, corporations and for the country, it is also a commercial and marketing opportunity. 

 
Many Sri Lankan companies are now fully aware of the link between Early Warning and Early Action.  Although there were several hours between the earthquake and the tsunami, almost all of the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami were taken by surprise because there were no early detection or early warning systems in place. A warning delivered 90 seconds in advance of the impact would have saved many lives. In Sri Lanka estimates indicate that around 85% of lives lost could have been saved if such a system had been in place in 2004. It was in response to this that Sri Lanka’s leading mobile network, Dialog developed Dewn - Dialog’s Disaster And Emergency Warning Network. Launched in 2014 the DEWN system connects mobile subscribers, emergency responders, community leaders and the general public to a national emergency monitoring centre at the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC). As a commercial and an economic driver, it has tremendous international potential.   
Apart from foreign aid, one of the levers which drive recovery after a disaster is insurance. Since the Tsunami of 2004 many proactive developments have taken place in this area and Sri Lanka now has a highly developed insurance system. Companies such as Janashakthi have pioneered special insurance policies for all kinds of natural disasters. However, only 12.6% of Sri Lankans are covered by a life insurance policy; even fewer have a comprehensive policy. Other parts of the Indian Ocean Region which are just as vulnerable to natural disaster have even less insurance cover. There is surely an opportunity here.   


In the event of disaster, an effective and experienced military is one of the most important resources a government can call on. The armed forces must have the expertise and the experience to organize, act quickly and reach remote places with life saving supplies and skills. Over the last few years Sri Lanka’s armed forces have proved themselves very effective in disaster recovery operations. In the floods and landslides of 2014 the three services carried out a variety of roles, rescuing those in danger, evacuating people in high risk areas and providing alternative accommodation, cooked meals and health facilities for thousands of people at a time. 

 
The Army is also an instrument of national policy and prestige. What it does at home, it can do just as well abroad. When the earthquake struck Nepal, Sri Lanka was among the first countries to send rescue teams. On April 26 2015, within less than 24 hours army personnel and civil medical consultants had left for Nepal on-board on a Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) plane.   


Launched in coordination with the Disaster Management Centre in Colombo, the rapid response and relief operations in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal was the first of its kind undertaken overseas by Sri Lanka. The success of this mission underlines a new role for Sri Lanka in the region. As the Indian Ocean Region becomes ever more important, so will the Sri Lanka Navy. At present the world’s largest and busiest logistics hub for humanitarian aid is the International Humanitarian City (IHC) in Dubai. Established in 2003, the IHC’s capabilities and strategic location — within eight hours by air to two-thirds of the world’s population — have helped deliver assistance in some of the worst humanitarian crises of the past decade. It is now the centre of a multi-billion dollar global humanitarian logistics industry which coordinates the acquisition and delivery of services and supplies to crisis-stricken areas.   


Part of the appeal of Dubai lies in its strategic location. It is at the centre of a communications and transport hub with an airport and a port. Sri Lanka too, has a very strategic location. It is on the circum-equatorial route, the shortest route to circumnavigate the world. Hambantota is only 10 nautical miles off the world’s busiest shipping lane, at the very pivot of the world sea lane connecting east and west. It is here that the shipping routes to Africa connect with those to the Far East. Hambantota is also closer to the vulnerable areas in the eastern sector of the Indian Ocean. Right next door to the port is Mattala Airport. In Dubai 85 per cent of the office space is occupied while 95 per cent of its warehouse space is taken. At Hambantota there is plenty of space for offices and warehouses and plenty of space for expansion. This is its advantage.   


Sri Lanka is the perfect stepping stone to Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Nepal and India. If there is another massive humanitarian disaster in Bangladesh or Philippines, flying in and out of Hambantota rather than out of Dubai will represent a massive saving in time, money and fuel. There is also a massive cost advantage.   


The MDF forum was the first step towards creating a multilateral dialogue around disaster resilience. The objective was to help promote Sri Lanka a hub for disaster relief, knowledge and management in the Indian Ocean. Involving will help us take a centre stage. Sri Lanka can use this opportunity to take the lead, to be the pivot of an integrated response in the cause of humanity. In this context everyone has to work together. In a multi lateral effort no one nation can predominate. This is one way of bringing everyone here. It is the very definition of a hub.   


A Hub for Disaster Relief in the Indian Ocean? Is there a case for Sri Lanka? The statistics are simple, the geography is compelling, the logic is obvious. It is in the National Interest; there is also a Strategic Need.   

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