Editor’s pickSoutheast Asia and its relationship…with floods (PART TWO)

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At an Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) Forum held in Hanoi, Vietnam, Tim Hill selects his favourite Sustainable Development Goal. (Image credit: Asia Europe Foundation)

By Tim Hill, Research Director, Eco-Business Research

In the last piece, Tim Hill pointed to Southeast Asia’s relationship with water, the region’s unique relationship with it as both boon and bane, and how urbanisation, deforestation, population growth have come together to create a negative impact in both urban and rural areas, especially with climate change translating into floods increasing in intensity and frequency.

More ominously, coupled with limited disaster relief and insufficient defence measures, reports from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have shown that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region is particularly vulnerable if no action is taken to address climate change, and may even lose more than US$2 trillion in combined assets by the 2070s.

Source: Eco-Business Research survey of 417 respondents in Southeast Asia

Impact on rural and urban areas

To assess the likelihood in a rise of temperatures and climate change, Eco-Business Research undertook a survey of regional opinion leaders in June 2017. The results show a high level of awareness of the potential catastrophic effects of climate change on the region, as well as a high level of concern about whether governments have the full resources to tackle the problems.

Some of the key points include:

• 84 per cent of respondents agreed that there had been “significant changes to the weather and climate in recent years”

• 80 per cent of respondents agreed that average temperatures had become hotter

• 51 per cent of respondents indicated that storms or typhoons had become more severe

• 43 per cent agreed that rainfall had become higher

• 69 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement “we will encounter significantly more extreme weather or climate conditions in the next decade”

This is a particular cause for concern given the high levels of flooding brought about through current weather patterns and the struggle that most Southeast Asian nations have in dealing with them.

Most respondents in all countries also indicated concerns as to whether their country was adequately prepared to deal with the effects of climate change in terms of expertise, budget allocation, and ASEAN-level collaboration.

All respondents from Southeast Asia were worried about the impact of climate change on their local economies with respondents from the Philippines, a veteran sufferer from the typhoon season, showing the biggest concern.

Regionally, the average respondents were concerned about whether urban planning in their country had adequately factored in the impact of extreme weather and climate conditions.

Respondents from Malaysia and the Philippines showed the most concern when asked if their countries had sufficient in-house expertise and a good strategy in place. Respondents from Indonesia showed the highest level of concern for the statement “My government has allocated sufficient resources and funding to plan for extreme weather events and climate conditions”.

Source: Eco-Business Research survey of 417 respondents in Southeast Asia

As one respondent from Indonesia, a director of a forestry government agency, said, “Working with related stakeholders, the government has developed plans to deal with climate change impacts, but [lacks] adequate funding for communities to mitigate the impact. Climate change is a very complicated matter which needs integration [at] almost every step.”

Looking forward

Awareness of the likely impact of rising sea water levels and higher rainfall patterns seems to be gaining traction in Southeast Asia. The economic and human impact on the region’s many cities that occupy low-elevation coastal zones has been estimated to be substantial.

And yet, the region as a whole still seems to be reactive, rather than proactive in its approach to flood control. Certainly, the respondents to Eco-Business’ survey were concerned about whether or not their countries had the right level of planning and investment needed to take on the climate of the future.

ASEAN has managed to put together some thinking, guidelines, as well as a regional performance system to tackle the issue, but is unlikely to take on the role of a regional regulatory body at this stage simply because it does not have the mandate for this from member countries.

Moreover, there seems to be a general feeling that it is the responsibility of governments to manage water supplies. Many are concerned about whether or not their governments have adequate expertise, resources, and plans in place to cope with the impact of flooding in the future.

And yet many interviewees also mentioned interesting case studies that showed high levels of planning and preparation for flooding from government agencies. Perhaps many of these initiatives are not getting communicated adequately to the general public. After all, while many disaster preparation programmes are often in place, the softer aspects of flood control infrastructure, such as skills development and financial systems are not always planned adequately.

Governments in many cases are also keen to involve communities and re-establish their lost relationship with, and respect for, their water supplies and ecosystems. There does seem to be a number of effective outreach programmes initiated by various government agencies in the region, and yet the habits of citizens and businesses are not changing fast enough.

For example, one of the ways that all ASEAN member states can help to build greater water awareness from their citizens is by ensuring that schools are more actively involved.

Governments also need to ensure that there is a unified national policy for flood control which permeates all agencies and different levels of hierarchy, transcending different departmental agendas. Committees created to look at issues of flood control then need to be drawn from multiple sectors, such as the private sector, climate change experts, geography experts, trade associations, and regulators in order to put together a cohesive and lasting approach.

At higher levels of education, academic institutes that study both the historical, human and scientific aspects of climate change and flood management need to ensure that they are engaged deeply with governments and solution providers.

Source: Eco-Business Research survey of 416 respondents in Southeast Asia

Private sector companies that are users of water, or developers of land, or even dealing in urban infrastructure need to ensure they are at the forefront of the dialogue on climate change and flood control in their areas of operation, rather than just reacting to government legislation.

Private sector companies that provide solutions to climate change and flooding also need to step up communication and dialogue to gain a greater understanding of the solutions on offer, and how they might complement each other and some of the natural systems available.

For instance, organisations offering big data analysis might present their solutions alongside sensor companies that check storm water levels, automation companies that deal with the flow control, and pump companies that provide extraction systems.

Clearly a lot more dialogue and exploration of options needs to be undertaken by government agencies, citizens and businesses, not just at a national level but at a regional level, to encourage ASEAN funding and institutional involvement and the sharing of best practices from other parts of the world.

This opinion piece came from the Eco-Business report Flood Controls in Southeast Asia . The report looks at trends as well as the economic impact of flooding in the region, and reflects on some of the solutions that ASEAN member states are using.