South Asia is facing an increasing complex and expanding disaster riskscape- one of the highest in the Asia Pacific region. Each year, people in the subregion suffer from various climate hazards such as floods, droughts, tropical cyclones, and heat waves. This is continuing this year in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is demonstrating that that the traditional demarcation between health and disaster hazards are arbitrary at best. Managing disaster risks amidst the pandemic requires very different approaches from what used to be done.
It has long been known that biological and natural hazards intersect with each other and increase the complexity of overall disaster impacts on populations and economies. But disaster management and risk analytics have been slow to capture the intersections of natural and biological hazards or capture the dimensions of interconnectedness and cascading effects to the social, economic, and environmental ecosystems. In fact, following any meteorological (that is cyclones, floods, tornadoes) or geophysical (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions) disaster that displaces large numbers of people, epidemic diseases such as diarrheal diseases, Hepatitis A and E, measles, meningitis, acute respiratory infections, malaria or dengue often emerge.1 In South Asia, in particular, the convergence of COVID-19 with natural hazards has created a hitherto unseen complex, compounding, and cascading risk landscape with spillover impacts on numerous sectors. The capacity of disaster management and public health systems to respond to these converging risks will inform the recovery for COVID19 and beyond.
These challenging times call for a reformulation and paradigm shift from a single hazard, single sector perspective to a multihazard, multi-sectoral and systemic risk perspective. To achieve this, building multiple and complex risk scenarios that take the converging biological and natural hazard risks will be a priority. This study is a step in this direction. Through the integration of data from multiple sources, this study extends the riskscape of the region and examines the cascading risks that are arising and will arise in the future from the impacts of natural and biological hazards. Specifically, the study provides a methodology for building an integrated scenario assessment for strategic management and policy development in South Asia.
In the era of COVID-19, developing the next generation of integrated risk scenarios will build a resilient South Asia that is prepared to face complex and cascading challenges and protect both lives and livelihoods.