1. India must retain its traditional and historic interest in Afghanistan and its people

Context: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to ask the MEA to brief all parliamentary parties on the Government’s actions in Afghanistan comes as questions grow about the Government’s planning for contingencies there, with the Taliban’s takeover.

4 Challenges that the Modi Government is facing:

  1. Bringing home Indian nationals and Helping Afghans who want to leave: Government’s decision to evacuate the entire embassy staff and security personnel first has made it more difficult to facilitate those Indians, as well as long-term visa holding Afghan Sikhs and Hindus needing to return
  2. Recognising the Taliban regime:  Early in August, after talks comprising 12 countries including India, U.N. representatives and Afghan representatives with the Taliban in Doha, a nine-point statement issued made it clear that they will “not recognise any government in Afghanistan that is imposed through the use of military force”.
  3. Dealing with the Taliban regime: Regardless of whether or not India recognises the Taliban as the legitimate ruler in Afghanistan, the government will have to open channels of communication to engage the Taliban.
  4. Strategic choices with Afghanistan: Taliban’s proximity to Pakistan’s establishment, and the concerns that anti-India terror groups could occupy space in Afghanistan to carry out terror attacks against India. Other strategic issues involving future connectivity, which India had sought to do via Chabahar port in Iran, must also be considered in the longer term.

Larger strategic questions

  • Whether the Indian Embassy was evacuated too early? India had undertaken evacuations during the 1990s too, but then the presence of Indian nationals was not as large and Indian stakes in Afghanistan were not so deeply rooted. In the past 20 years, India has built considerable interests, including major infrastructure projects and ongoing development projects, helped script the Afghan Constitution and conduct of elections, as well as enabled the training and education of the next generation of officials, soldiers and professionals.
  • What about India’s goodwill amongst the Public? It seems unfortunate, therefore, that this bank of goodwill came to naught as the Government decided it was safer to pull up stakes, emulating neither the U.S. and European countries who relocated their diplomatic outposts to the Kabul airport, nor Russia, China and Iran, which decided not to vacate their embassies there.
  • How to approach the new regime now? Government must explain how it expects to approach the new regime in Afghanistan once it is formed. It is still unclear whether this will be merely a repeat of the brutal regime seen from 1996-2001, or whether negotiations are under way for a more inclusive coalition, including several former leaders of Afghanistan, will fructify into a transitional government.
  • Security concerns: The rise of Taliban power and that of the group’s Pakistani backers is a particular security concern as groups such as the LeT and the JeM could use Afghanistan as a staging base for terror attacks in India.
  • How it to approach the Afghan people, especially those whose lives could be in danger? These include Embassy staff and associates, those working on Indian projects, minorities, including those Islamic sects such as the Hazaras who have been targeted, as well as women.

Conclusion: A more open, liberalised visa policy, and more swift processing of the newly launched special “e-Emergency X-Misc” visas would reassure both Afghans and the international community that India’s exit from Afghanistan is not permanent, and it will retain its traditional and historic interests in the country and its people, despite adverse events there.

2. With a rise in the frequency of devastating cyclones, India needs to look at long-term mitigation measures

Context: The severe cyclones, Tauktae and Yaas, which battered India earlier this year, made landfalls on the country’s western coast, Gujarat, and the eastern coast, Odisha, on May 17 and May 26, 2021, respectively.

  • Global Climate Risk Index report 2021: India ranks the seventh worst-hit country globally in 2019 due to the frequent occurrence of extreme weather-related events. Moreover, the report showed that India lost around 2,267 human lives, while damages stood at $68,812 million in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms in 2019. In the same year, India ranked first concerning human deaths and economic losses due to extreme weather-related events (Eckstein et al., 2021).

Damage Caused:  

  • Total Economic Losses: Government of India reports are that, put together, an estimated 199 people died, 37 million people were affected, and economic losses stood at ₹320 billion (U.S.$4.3 billion).
  • To Agriculture: In addition, crop area of 0.24 million hectares was affected, and around 0.45 million houses were damaged.
  • Cost of Evacuation: 2.5 million people were evacuated to cyclone shelters and relief camps in these two States.
  • Depleting green cover in urban areas: The large-scale uprooting of trees in the urban areas affected already depleting green cover.
  • Damaging the financial stability of the States: during the COVID-19 pandemic, these cyclones caused additional financial responsibility for State governments. The health costs need to be measured too.

More frequency:

  • Increasing sea surface temperatures in the northern Indian Ocean and the geo-climatic conditions in India have led to a rise in the frequency of devastating cyclones in the coastal States accounting for 7% of the global tropical cyclones, according to India Meteorological Department (IMD), 2013 data.
  • India’s Exposure: The Indian coastline is around 7,500 km; there are 96 coastal districts (which touch the coast or are close to it), with 262 million people exposed to cyclones and tsunamis.
  • Trend of Increasing Frequency:
    • The World Bank and the United Nations (2010) estimate that around 200 million city residents would be exposed to storms and earthquakes by 2050 in India.
    • Every year, around five to six tropical cyclones are formed in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea; of these, two to three turn severe.
    • Between 1891 and 2020, out of the 313 cyclones crossing India’s eastern and western coasts, 130 were classified as severe cyclonic storms.
    • The west coast experienced 31 cyclones, while 282 cyclones crossed the east coast. The Odisha coast witnessed 97 cyclones, followed by Andhra Pradesh (79), Tamil Nadu (58), West Bengal (48), Gujarat (22), Maharashtra/Goa (7), and Kerala (2).

Improving scenario: Fatalities due to cyclones declined from 10,378 in 1999 to 110 in 2020; the significant drop was on account of improved early warning systems, cyclone forecasting, and better disaster management activities such as timely evacuation, rehabilitation and relief distributions.

  • But these measures are not adequate to achieve a zero-fatality approach and minimise economic losses from cyclones.

The economic costs: Cyclones constituted the second most frequent phenomena that occurred in 15% of India’s total natural disasters over 1999-2020.

  • Cost to life: During the same period, 12,388 people were killed, and the damage was estimated at $32,615 million.
  • 3rd most lethal disaster in India after earthquakes (42%) and floods (33%).
  • Economic Damage: Cyclones are the second most expensive in terms of the costs incurred in damage, accounting for 29% of the total disaster-related damages after floods (62%).
  • Increase in Damages caused: Between 1999 and 2020, cyclones inflicted substantial damage to public and private properties, amounting to an increase in losses from $2,990 million to $14,920 million in the absence of long-term mitigation measures.
  • Increase in the fiscal burden of governments through increased spending to implement effective cyclone preparation measures. Direct government expenditure on natural calamities increased 13 times. The Asian Development Bank’s report in 2014 estimated that India would suffer a loss of around 1.8% of GDP annually by 2050 from climate-related events.
  • Loss to GDP & Revenue: India lost around 2% of GDP and 15% of total revenue over 1999-2020.

Measures in Odisha:

  • In the aftermath of the 1999 super cyclone, the Government of Odisha took up various cyclone mitigation measures which included installing a disaster warning system in the coastal districts, and construction of evacuation shelters in cyclone-prone districts. Other steps were the setting up of the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA), conducting regular cabinet meetings for disaster preparedness, and building the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF).
  • All these activities have helped to minimise the toll from cyclonic storms such as Hudhud, Fani, Amphan, and Yaas.
  • Still, Odisha’s disaster management model is inadequate to minimise the economic losses that result from cyclones. Therefore, the Government of India should adopt a few measures to minimise disaster damage and fatalities.

Essential steps

  • Preparedness: It is imperative to improve the cyclone warning system and revamp disaster preparedness measures.
  • Shelter belts: The Government must widen the cover under shelterbelt plantations and help regenerate mangroves in coastal regions to lessen the impact of cyclones.
  1. Infrastructure improvement: Adopting cost-effective, long-term mitigation measures, including building cyclone-resilient infrastructure such as constructing storm surge-resilient embankments, canals and improving river connectivity to prevent waterlogging in low-lying areas are important. Installing disaster-resilient power infrastructure in the coastal districts, providing concrete houses to poor and vulnerable households, and
  2. Education and Awareness: Creating massive community awareness campaigns are essential.
  3. Healthy coordination between the Centre and the States concerned is essential to collectively design disaster mitigation measures. It is only such a collective mitigation effort by the Centre and States that can help reduce the fiscal burden of States and also be effective in minimising disaster deaths.


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *