Moving from Risk to Resilience with Localizing the SDGs – India

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Floods are a recurring phenomenon in Bangladesh and the neighboring state of Assam, India. The ongoing large-scale flooding here is no exception. Floods often cause landslides and large-scale erosion of banks. The Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2019 classifies them as a multi-hazard hotspot where disaster, poverty and environmental degradation intersect.

Is it a climate catastrophe?

The latest IPCC report points out that every degree increase in temperature results in a 7% increase in humidity, which has a disproportionate impact on the South Asian monsoon. This year, in Assam and neighboring Bangladesh, heavy rains started in March, much earlier than usual. ESCAP analysis indicates that with temperature increases of 1.5°C and 2°C, South Asia will face the highest impact of heavy rainfall, followed by agricultural drought and high temperature/heat waves . There is therefore a need to scale up transformative adaptation actions and resilience-building measures.

Floods in Assam are a risk multiplier

Assam often faces catastrophic floods. Records for the past five decades indicate that the state has been hit by floods every year and the number of events per year ranges from 71 to 127. In recent years, floods have intensified, causing heavy economic losses and increasing the socio-economic vulnerability of populations. India’s National Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) 2021 benchmark report estimates that 32.7% of Assam’s population already lives in multidimensional poverty and notes problems in health, nutrition, education and standard of living. In addition, floods cause small and marginal farmers to lose their crops, disrupt children’s education and increase the transmission of infectious diseases. This subsequently exacerbates the risk of intergenerational poverty.

Localizing SDGs captures the intersection of flooding and vulnerability in real time

India has developed a comprehensive Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Index to track performance of global goals across all states and union territories. These scores for Assam show uneven progress from district to district. In addition, districts that are highly vulnerable to flooding have relatively lower scores for climate change and disaster-related SDGs. A snapshot of ongoing floods in Assam in May-June 2022 against SDG scores in flood-affected districts captures real-time vulnerabilities of at-risk communities (Figure 1, Figure 2). SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 13 (Climate Action) scores are particularly low for some districts.

Inclusive adaptation is key to building resilient communities

Localizing the SDGs provides insight into the local risk landscape, enabling policymakers to take targeted, risk-informed adaptation action and make progress on global goals. This is crucial because although the risks are global, building resilience must be driven at the community level.

For example, in Assam, key adaptation priorities should include strengthening early warning systems (EWS), making water resources management more resilient with investment benefit-cost ratios of 5: 1 and 4:1 respectively. These are followed by creating new resilient infrastructure, improving dryland agricultural production, and nature-based solutions (Figure 3). Investing in these measures will not only prevent major losses from natural hazards, but also economic, social and environmental benefits. In addition, the United Nations Environment Program Adaptation Gap Report 2021 notes that globally, four sectors (agriculture, infrastructure, water and disaster risk management) account for three-quarters of quantified adaptation financing needs. These are aligned with the suggested adaptation priorities, which are cross-sectoral in nature. For example, strengthening multi-hazard EWS not only improves disaster preparedness but also contributes to building resilience in the agriculture, infrastructure and water resources sectors.

Localizing the SDGs can also effectively inform national and local disaster risk reduction (DRR) strategies. This would also enable countries to achieve Sendai Target E which calls for “significantly increasing the number of countries with national and local DRR strategies”.

To facilitate this process, the ESCAP portal on risk and resilience presents country risk profiles and associated adaptation priority matrices. It also offers an analytical assessment of how risk management can help accelerate progress towards achieving several SDGs. It is an effort to stimulate risk-informed policy actions to build resilient communities.

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