BACKGROUND

1.1 The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional organization comprising of seven Member States; five deriving from South Asia, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and two from Southeast Asia, including Myanmar and Thailand lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity. The regional group constitutes a bridge between South and South East Asia and represents a reinforcement of relations among these countries. BIMSTEC has established a natural platform for intra- regional cooperation.

1.2 The BIMSTEC region is home to around 1.5 billion people which constitute around 22% of the global population with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of 2.7 trillion economy (Source: Official website of BIMSTEC Secretariat , Dhaka). The objective of building such an alliance has been to harness shared and accelerated growth through mutual cooperation in different areas of common interests by utilizing regional resources and geographical advantages.

1.3. Majority of the BIMSTEC countries are exposed to a variety of hazards due to the geo-climatic characteristics of the region. These hazards range from avalanches and earthquakes to glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) in the Himalayas in the North, droughts and floods in the Plains, and cyclones that originate in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Importantly, many countries in the region share common geological formations and river basins, and natural hazards frequently transcend national boundaries. According to a UN ESCAP report, in the year 2015, Asia-Pacific continued to be the world’s most disaster prone region. 160 disasters were reported in the region, accounting for 47 per cent of the world’s 344 disasters. The region bore the brunt of large scale catastrophic disasters with over 16,000 fatalities — more than a two-fold increase since 2014. South Asia accounted for a staggering 64 percent of total global fatalities — the majority was attributed to the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015 which caused 8,790 deaths. Asia and the Pacific incurred more than US$ 45.1 billion in economic damage in 2015 and even higher indirect losses( Source – Disasters in Asia and Pacific 2015 – UNESCAP report). The key lessons from disasters in the region in recent past point to areas that require urgent attention: (1) building urban resilience; (2) promoting regional cooperation for trans-boundary river basin floods and other cross-border disasters; (3) addressing slow-onset disasters like drought;(4) enhancing end-to-end multi-hazard early warning systems; (5) promoting the use of innovative technology; and (6) Regional cooperation for response, relief and preparedness to ensure effective regional response.

1.4 Flooding is the most common disaster event in the South Asian Region (SAR) and about 64 percent of the global population affected by floods resides in SAR. Over the past 40 years in SAR, floods have accounted for approximately half of all disaster events, impacted approximately 82 percent of all individuals affected by disasters, and were responsible for 80 percent of all economic loss caused by disasters in the areas affected by floods. Also in the region, major population centers live on key fault lines and in coastal areas that are exposed to hazards and exposure will increase significantly over the next 40 years. By 2050, there will be 246 million city dwellers in cyclone-prone areas in South Asia, in contrast to 160 million people in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. The urban population exposed to cyclones is expected to grow at 2.2 percent per year up until 2050. Exposure to earthquake risk will increase significantly as well. The fastest exposure growth rate in the world is in South Asia, at 3.5 percent per year. Due to population growth and continued urbanization in the exposed megacities in the region, SAR becomes the most vulnerable area in the world to disaster events. (Source – Disaster risk management in South Asia – A Regional Overview – World Bank)

1.5 Past experience has also shown that large disasters destroy the economic and social infrastructure of small economies and can derail development for decades. Countries with small and vulnerable economies have indeed the highest ratio of economic loss to capital stock and often have very low national savings, which constrains their capacity to absorb impacts and recover.

1.6 Opportunities exist for countries in South and South-East Asia to prioritize long-term resilience through a holistic approach to tackle risk at its roots and capitalize on existing cooperation frameworks like BIMSTEC, in order to evolve multi-sectoral approaches to disaster reduction.

1.7 The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction highlights the need for agreed regional and sub-regional strategies and mechanisms for enhanced regional cooperation in disaster management including response. The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India during his inaugural speech at the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) – held in November 2016 in New Delhi, had detailed an all-inclusive 10 point agenda presenting a holistic approach to disaster risk management where ―bringing about greater cohesion in international response to disasters” was amongst one of the major priority work areas. Disaster preparedness has traditionally remained inadequate in many countries for want of enhancement of capacities of the Disaster Management Institutions in response capabilities as well as inter-institutional and intergovernmental coordination. Lessons learnt from response to earlier disasters reinforce that Global, Regional and Trans-boundary cooperation remains pivotal in supporting countries, local authorities, communities and businesses to reduce disaster risk. Therefore, Regional and International cooperation is essential not only to cope with the impacts of disaster but also to help ensure stability and economic growth in the region.

1.8 With respect to the South and South East Asia Region, the lessons learnt from various disasters, and the most recent Himalayan Earthquake Tragedy in Nepal, reinforce the critical need for strengthening regional coordination and cooperation in disaster response preparedness, especially in the use of foreign civil aid and military assets.

1.9 Rationale for BIMSTEC Annual Disaster Management Exercise (BIMSTEC – DMEx 2017)

Given the frequency and intensity of disasters in the Asia Pacific region in recent times, it is imperative that countries get together at the earliest to set up appropriate institutional mechanisms to share best practices related to disaster management. Disaster Management Exercises should ideally be conducted on an annual basis in the Asia Pacific Region.

During the BIMSTEC Leaders Retreat hosted by India in Goa on October 17, 2016, the leaders had emphasized the need for closer cooperation among BIMSTEC Members in disaster management through joint exercises, sharing of information, adoption of preventive measures, joint action on relief and rehabilitation and capacity building, etc. as under :- “We encourage closer cooperation in disaster management through joint exercises, sharing of information including early warning system, adoption of preventive measures, joint action on relief and rehabilitation, and capacity building. We agree to build on the existing capacities in the region and to explore the possibility of establishing partnerships with other regional and international entities in this sector”.

At the recently held 17th BIMSTEC Senior Officials Meeting in Kathmandu on February 7, 2017, it was decided that India would organize the first annual disaster management exercise for the region. The outcome of the exercise would be presented to the BIMSTEC Leaders at the Summit to be hosted by Nepal in October/November 2017.

There are a number of disaster simulation exercises conducted periodically in Asia and the Pacific designed to enhance humanitarian actors’ readiness to respond to a disaster. In addition to regular civil- military coordination simulation exercises conducted at the national and regional levels (based on bilateral / multi-lateral arrangements), there are a number of regular, intergovernmental simulation exercises that occur annually, which are organized by international or regional organizations. Some of the prominent ones include Regional INSARAG USAR simulation exercises, IASC IAES Simulation Exercise, ASEAN Regional Disaster Emergency Response Simulation Exercises and ASEAN Regional Forum Disaster Relief Exercise. The Government of India also hosted the first South Asian Annual Disaster Management Exercise (SAADMEx) in November 2015 which witnessed participation from all the South Asian Countries. Given the criticality of such exercises for saving life and property in the region, India would like the participation of all BIMSTEC countries; for augmenting current levels of individual and joint preparedness for rescue, relief and response efforts during disaster situations.