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NTS Bulletin

NTS Bulletin February 2013

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NTS VIEWPOINT

January’s weather extremes: Will it spur new action?

By J. Jackson Ewing and Sally Trethewie

January 2013 saw weather and environmental extremes across the globe pose severe threats to lives and livelihoods. Unprecedented hot weather and heavy flooding were seen in Australia. Abnormally cold weather hit China, western Russia and South Asia. Areas of North and South America battled some of the worst droughts of the past century.

While these events were all unique, there is an emerging consensus that such abrupt or unpredicted environmental conditions are likely to define the coming decades. Urgent attention should therefore be given to the systemic inadequacies in physical and social infrastructure revealed by January’s events.

The resilience of built environments is paramount to dealing with the impacts of extreme weather. Russia’s cold snap became deadly, for example, as subfreezing temperatures and heavy snowfall crippled infrastructure. Pipes that carry water and heat into homes, schools and businesses burst. Roads were closed and flights disrupted, isolating towns. Russia’s government is now debating a host of questions about how to update or reinvent the ageing infrastructure that was so thoroughly overwhelmed this winter. Their level of success in this endeavour will dictate to a large extent how well the country fares in an era of weather extremes.

Jakarta, likewise, had little success in managing its floods. Streets were impassable and thousands driven from their homes in an impromptu housing crisis. The events have spurred the city to consider backing up drainage systems with new micro-tunnelling (also known as pipe jacking) infrastructure. The city is also exploring ground-based cloud seeding options. While some such approaches are largely unproven, it is essential that Jakarta and other vulnerable metropolises continue to innovate and experiment their way to greater physical resilience.

Social tools that allow for cohesive response at the community level also proved essential during January’s extreme weather, both through their presence and their absence. In cases of heat, cold and flooding, communities and individuals that were most isolated faced the most acute risk and dire impacts (including the majority of reported deaths).

Communication technologies such as mobile phones and social media platforms can open up avenues to mitigate such risks. In Jakarta, for example, tweets and Facebook posts relating to the floods rose along with the water. Some of these provided useful information about the situation and the response efforts in affected parts of the city.

Such emergent pathways for connectivity and attention gathering could be used to achieve a greater level of cooperation and communication between communities, governments and other responding actors. China’s experience exemplifies such possibilities, as citizens continue to loudly call attention to the problems they faced during January’s overwhelmingly cold weather.

These observations suggest that countries must look to systems-level solutions that integrate physical and social schemes. Further, adaptability must be an intrinsic feature of systems that are developed. With climate and weather conditions predicted to be even more challenging in the coming decades, governments and cities need to prepare quickly and strategically if they are to avoid catastrophic losses in the future.

J. Jackson Ewing and Sally Trethewie are, respectively, Research Fellow and Associate Research Fellow with the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

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CLIMATE CHANGE, ENVIRONMENTAL SECURITY AND NATURAL DISASTERS

News & Commentaries

Selected Publications

This article examines initiatives in the region that address the climate vulnerabilities of the urban informal sector, drawing lessons from the successes and failures of the various programmes. It argues that megacities must support efforts to improve the adaptive capacity and resilience of the informal sector. It concludes that a combination of technical, socioeconomic and political capabilities would be needed to address the various urban vulnerabilities.

This paper describes a methodology for including ecological capital in wealth accounts. The framework would account for (1) the direct benefits provided by the current stock of ecosystems and (2) capital revaluation and risk of collapse as a result of conversion of ecosystems for economic development. The paper illustrates the framework using the case of mangroves in Thailand over the period 1970–2009.

California has a comprehensive mitigation policy that tackles a global public good but not a commensurate adaptation policy aimed at protecting local interests. The paper identifies the differences, both substantive and political, between adaptation and mitigation that could explain this gap. The paper also looks at individual and institutional incentive structures and argues that these can explain and predict system resilience to climate change.

Events & Announcements

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ENERGY AND HUMAN SECURITY

News & Commentaries

Selected Publications

This brief outlines key issues highlighted at a seminar on energy security in the Asia-Pacific. It notes that geopolitical factors are important for energy security but are sometimes over-emphasised. It is important to have a balance between energy security and other dimensions of human security such as food security and environmental protection.

To address energy security, countries must strategically engage in international cooperation. However, such cooperation can be immensely challenging, particularly in regards to emissions control and stockpiling of oil. The authors argue that countries should ideally work in small, relevant groups and find areas of commitment that align with national interests and produce joint gains. They find that such cooperation is likely to take place in decentralised institutional networks rather than larger, centralised treaties.

This paper rates the energy security of 18 countries in the Asia-Pacific based on data from 1990 to 2010. The author broadly conceptualises energy security to include issues of availability, affordability, sustainability and governance, as well as energy efficiency. The cases of Malaysia and Myanmar are used to illustrate factors contributing to larger and smaller improvements in energy security over the period.

Events & Announcements

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FOOD SECURITY

News & Commentaries

Selected Publications

The FAO’s latest report on agriculture and food security affirms investment in agriculture as one of the most effective ways of addressing global hunger, and also of reducing poverty and promoting sustainability. The report also finds that policies that support farmer-centric strategies for investment in agriculture are central to addressing food insecurity. It recommends that governments and donors actively ensure that smallholder farmers have access to microfinance and that large-scale investments are economically and socially responsible.

This report documents the outcomes of the 2011 Crawford Fund annual conference on food security which focused on the supermarket revolution and its impact on the operation of markets and food chains. A key finding was that governments need to act to minimise the disruption to the livelihoods of traditional food chain actors. Also, research on the efficiency of food chains is seemingly as important as research on yield improvements given that the supermarket revolution has resulted in significant productivity gains in post-harvest supply chains.

Events & Announcements

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HEALTH SECURITY

News & Commentaries

Selected Publications

This paper looks at effective prevention interventions in high-income countries, and assesses the feasibility of, as well as the costs and benefits of, using these interventions in lower- and middle-income countries. The interventions include smoking reduction, dietary restrictions, physical activity promotion, risk control, treatment and prevention. This paper also discusses implementation challenges such as access to drugs, intellectual property issues, generic drug production and human resource constraints.

This study seeks to understand the interaction of public relations, health communication and journalism during a pandemic using the case of Singapore during the 2009 H1N1 A influenza pandemic. It analyses the press releases from Singapore’s public health agency, examining the frames used to shape public understanding of H1N1 and to secure public support for and participation in prevention and containment. It then looks at the evolution of information from press release to news coverage.

Events & Announcements

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INTERNAL AND CROSS-BORDER CONFLICT

News & Commentaries

Selected Publications

This report explores how regional security architectures respond to tensions arising from human rights-related issues. An examination of cases in the African Union (AU) and ASEAN shows that differences in historical and cultural backgrounds as well as political dynamics influence how regional institutions deal with human rights-related civil conflicts and external calls for intervention.

This paper points out that it is important to recognise the distinction between protection of civilians (POC) in different types of peace operations and in operations undertaken by different organisations. Such recognition is essential for policy decisions on, and planning of, operations that have the POC mandate.

Events & Announcements

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TRANSNATIONAL CRIME

News & Commentaries

Selected Publications

When an armed group has firm control over the behaviour of its fighters, that control can be used to humanitarian ends such as the protection of civilians, but it can also be used to perpetrate unlawful acts. This paper sets out to define methodically what constitutes a code of conduct, and how it compares to other types of internal regulations known to have been used by armed groups. Using case study analysis, it then reflects on the conditions under which codes of conduct are effective.

This document provides an overview of the dynamics behind the escalating illicit trade in rhino horns from South Africa to Vietnam. It aims to provide an understanding of the salient factors in the source country and the end-use market that support this trend. This knowledge should lead to remedial strategies, actions and interventions that serve to mitigate and prevent further losses of Africa’s threatened rhino species.

Events & Announcements

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WATER SECURITY

News & Commentaries

Selected Publications

Some 126,000 groundwater sites in the US have not met pollution standards. Remediation has however reached a plateau at many complex sites and, with currently available technology, such sites will not see contaminant levels drop below national standards in the next 50 to 100 years. In these cases, the report argues, government officials should decide whether it is better to manage contamination – and make sure it does not foul drinking water supply – than to remove it.

The glaciers in South Asia’s Hindu Kush Himalayan region are retreating. Changes in water availability that may result from that may play an increasing role in heightening political tensions, especially if existing water management institutions do not better account for the region’s social, economic and ecological complexities. It will be important to expand research and monitoring programmes to gather more detailed, consistent and accurate data on demographics, water supply, demand and scarcity.

Events & Announcements

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You are free to publish this material in its entirety or only in part in your newspapers, wire services, internet-based information networks and newsletters and you may use the information in your radio-TV discussions or as a basis for discussion in different fora, provided full credit is given to the author(s) and the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). Kindly inform the publisher (NTS_Centre@ntu.edu.sg) and provide details of when and where the publication was used.

About the Centre:

The Centre for NTS Studies, based in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), was inaugurated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary-General Dr Surin Pitsuwan in May 2008. The Centre maintains research in the fields of Climate Change, Food Security, Energy Security, Health Security, as well as Internal and Cross Border Conflict. It produces policy-relevant analyses aimed at furthering awareness and building capacity to address NTS issues and challenges in the Asia Pacific region and beyond. The Centre also provides a platform for scholars and policymakers within and outside Asia to discuss and analyse NTS issues in the region.

The Centre is the Coordinator of the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership (2012–2015) supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada. It also serves as the Secretariat of the initiative.

In 2009, the Centre was chosen by the MacArthur Foundation as a lead institution for its three-year Asia Security Initiative (2009–2012), to develop policy research capacity and recommend policies on the critical security challenges facing the Asia-Pacific. It is also a founding member and the Secretariat for the Consortium of Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies in Asia (NTS-Asia).

More information on the Centre can be found at www.rsis.edu.sg/nts.


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