Less than a month after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Harold slammed into Vanuatu devastating large parts of this Pacific small island developing state. As several other countries in the Asia-Pacific region enter their cyclone, drought, heatwaves or monsoon seasons, the potential for a repeat of such an ‘unprecedented double disaster’ is increasing. How can countries confront a major climate-related or other disaster on top of ongoing prevention, response, and recovery measures to deal with COVID-19?
This brief, developed by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Regional Office for Asia-Pacific:
• Builds on early lessons from Cyclone Harold in the Pacific.
• Examines ongoing prevention and preparedness measures at the national and local level in other high-risk countries.
• Provides recommendations on how to address climate and disaster risk in an era of COVID-19.
• Points the way forward with a massively reinvigorated localization agenda.
The brief reflects the interventions and feedback from the 16 April webinar under the same title, which UNDRR co-organized with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
2019 was a tough year for communities and countries of Asia Pacific in terms of disasters.
More than 68 million people were affected across the region i . Climate-related hazards, many of which have become more unpredictable and extreme due to climate change, were responsible for most of these disasters. For most of the year, disaster prevention efforts remained firmly focused on natural hazards. It was only on the very last day of 2019, when a cluster of pneumonia-like illnesses were reported from Wuhan, China, that attention began to shift to a new risk- managing the threat of what would become a global pandemic.
At an institutional level, government agencies are already stretched thin trying to manage the COVID19 response. Countries like the Philippines, which typically experiences 20 tropical storms of varying strength a year, must now continue with their storm preparedness efforts while ensuring that they contain COVID-19 from spreading further.
The concern of many is that if a similar – or potentially higher – number of people are affected by climate and other related hazards this year, then disaster management capacities across the region risk becoming completely overwhelmed.
Some countries in the region are already experiencing the dual impact of weather hazardinduced disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, Cyclone Harold wreaked havoc across several Pacific Islands, especially Vanuatu (see box). This is on top of a drought that has impacted several north Pacific island states, including Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.
Countries in other parts of the region are also struggling with these dual challenges. Since the start of the year, Indonesia has been responding and dealing with the impact of heavy rains, floods and landslides. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, recently reported that over a half million people have been affected by drought over the last three monthsii .
In this midst of these dual challenges, countries must not lose sight of the need to protect the most vulnerable from the impacts of both. Moreover, they need to examine their current preparedness plans to ensure that they are in line with their COVID-19 efforts. Managing such complex risks cannot be done by any single agency but must be a whole-of-government endeavour.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.