External Publication

Ukraine War Threatens Global Food Security

by Jose Ma. Luis Montesclaros and Margareth Sembiring
Published on 5 September 2022

Op-Eds

Six months since the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, World Bank data shows that inflation has been high at above 5 percent across almost all low-income and middle-income countries globally, with food inflation as high as 31.2 percent in East and Southern Africa in June.

To protect domestic food security, over 34 countries have implemented food export bans and export-limiting measures, and over 86 countries have placed trade measures impacting food and fertilizers. These are triggering what the United Nations has dubbed as the “the largest cost-of-living crisis of the 21st century to date”.

Conflict has long been identified as a significant driver of food insecurity and hunger. Within conflict situations, farmers are driven away from fields/farms, agricultural assets and food stock are damaged, and logistics and supply chains are disrupted. Combatants have also targeted agriculture infrastructure and production. Islamic State fighters in Iraq reportedly sabotaged irrigation wells using rubble, oil and foreign objects, thereby killing plants and livestock.

These cause instability in food security in conflict-torn areas. Food production in sub-Saharan African shrank by 12.3 percent during conflict times between 1970 and 1994, and the Central African Republic’s cereal production dropped amid its civil war. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, global undernourishment increased to 815 million in 2016 due to violent conflicts and climate-related shocks, with about 400 million living in conflict zones.

In the first month and a half of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, one in three Ukrainian households were already food insecure. Ukraine is no stranger to the impacts of conflict on hunger, holding a painful collective memory of Holodomor (“death famine”) which killed millions in the first decade of Stalin’s rule of the Soviet Union by 1933.

While the impacts of conflict on food security within countries are rather established, what makes today’s crisis different, is that the conflict within Ukraine is also worsening food insecurity beyond its Ukraine’s borders.

Ukraine and Russia are key producers of agricultural commodities, contributing 29 percent of global wheat exports, 62 percent of sunflower oil, and more than 12 percent of maize. The blockade of Ukrainian grain exports thus sparked global fears over heightened food prices.

Ninety-four countries are projected to be impacted by either food, energy, or finance concerns due to the war in Ukraine. Three-quarters of the 1.6 billion inhabitants in these countries are likely to vulnerable to these three challenges simultaneously, creating a “perfect-storm” making a cost-of-living crisis likely.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the impacts of the war in Ukraine on international food security more acute. For countries not directly involved in the conflict, income support is a normal recourse in protecting consumers from war-induced international food price inflation. However, owing to pandemic-driven economic, countries’ budgets are weaker now. Government debts across advanced, emerging, and low-income developing countries have grown significantly from end-2019 to end-2020, with fiscal balances declining over this same period.

Even before the war, the world was already battling rising energy and food prices. Reduced economic activity in early 2020 translated to a reduced demand for oil, falling oil prices, and oil producers cutting production growth targets. By 2021, though, when economies reopened, oil demand for electricity generation in coal plants increased by 9 percent, causing energy prices to rise. Energy price inflation led subsequently led to higher prices of energy-intensive fertilizers, thus feeding into higher food prices.

Furthermore, countries were already seeing farming disruptions in early 2020, with the fall army worm destroying crops in Asia and Africa; the African swine fever infecting hogs in China and other Asian countries; and droughts and floods impacting grain-exporting countries like Pakistan and Thailand. Pandemic lockdowns further induced crop productivity losses by disrupting planting and harvesting schedules, further driving up food prices.

By mid-May 2022, global prices were already 30 percent higher than in the previous year. Significant importers of grains, fertilisers and oils from Ukraine and Russia. Countries in North Africa and Western/Central Asia, which source more than 30 percent of wheat from the two countries, immediately felt the impacts.

Ongoing climate-related challenges further exacerbates the war-induced food insecurity. Conflict zones hit by climate shocks have experienced more severe and acute food insecurity, seen in 14 out of 34 food crisis countries in 2017.

Within Ukraine, temperatures in the past 60 years have risen at a rate faster than Europe, and sometimes even faster than the world’s. While wheat and soybean are relatively resilient against changing climates, crops like barley, maize and sunflower are estimated to see significant declines in yields in the next 10-30years. Khersonska, one of the oblasts attacked by Russia in eastern Ukraine, is among the top five oblasts projected to be most impacted.

Hunger can fuel further tensions, either intercommunal and cross-border.

Less than a week into Russia’s invasion, 141 countries voted for a UN resolution demanding Russia to end the war as soon as possible. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested the West’ to help “close the sky”. Multiple military, diplomatic, and economic measures have been rolled out to force Russia’s hand to halt its invasion. However, ongoing measures have only resulted in gradual shipments of military equipment that fall far short of providing Ukraine full protection.

Countries fear that a harder stance may harm their own security and economic interests. This has led countries like India and China to take calibrated, business-as-usual approaches with Russia. While Indonesia has condemned Russia’s aggression, it has not acceded to Ukraine’s request for military assistance. Instead, it has taken the role of mediator as Group of 20 president, with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visiting presidents Putin and Zelensky and urging Russia to stop the war immediately based on food security concerns.

Western leaders have similarly expressed their wishes of not wanting to see Russia win the war. Yet even the United States, which has disbursed approximately US$4.6 billion security packages as of June 2022, has started to recognize that this may not be enough to help Ukraine defend its territorial integrity. There is growing concern of a military stalemate as neither Russia nor Ukraine is likely to make major territorial gains.

The UN-brokered negotiations have led to a recent removal of blockades of Ukrainian grains. While this was accompanied by signs of stabilizing global food markets threats to global food security go beyond simply resuming grain exports from Ukraine. The risk of a potential global food crisis leading to a significant destabilising impact on economies and societies around the world is a spectre that confronts us today.

At bottom, world leaders will need to earnestly consider putting an end to the war, against the ramifications of a potential global food crisis globally. The latter can be an equally, if not more, significant destabilizer to their countries from economic, political, and societal perspectives.

Craving India’s Food Security Success

by Jose Ma. Luis P. Montesclaros
Published on 3 September 2022

Op-Eds

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently lauded India’s food subsidies for their role in helping minimise the impacts of COVID-19 on food and economic insecurity. India avoided any increase in extreme poverty during the pandemic, whereas a March 2022 report by the Asian Development Bank notes that ASEAN member states saw an increase of 4.7 million people living in extreme poverty.

A worker handles a sample of wheat grain at Grain Market in Narela, New Delhi. India wheat export policy was modified on 13 May 2022 with a notification from India's Directorate General of Foreign Trade, New Delhi, India, 23 May 2022 (Photo: Pradeep Gaur/SOPA Images/Sipa USA via Reuters).

The IMF report highlights India’s Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana emergency safety net policy of distributing subsidised food to eligible households. This policy builds on India’s National Food Security Act through which the government allocates grain for subsidised redistribution to lower-income households. Seventy-five per cent of India’s rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population are eligible for subsidised redistribution.

Digital technologies play an important role in the National Food Security Act. India’s Aadhaar national identification system gives individuals a unique biometric digital identity. The World Bank touts this as the world’s ‘most expansive’ digital identification system, covering 1.3 billion people as of March 2022. Digital identities also reduce the misallocation of limited welfare resources to unintended beneficiaries, according to the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab.

India’s digital identity system supports the provision of food subsidies through its Digital Ration Card (DRC) system. Over 222 million DRCs have been issued as of March 2022. Approximately 200 million cards were issued to ‘priority households’ with low incomes and 20 million cards for households in extreme poverty. The DRC system is supported by electronic point-of-sale machines used for the accurate, electronic weighing of grain. Over 166 million tonnes of subsidised grain has been distributed by India’s fair price shops using this mechanism.

India’s success builds on its unique digitalisation of food distribution. Yet such initiatives are absent from ASEAN’s approach.

In 2021, the 43rd Meeting of ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry endorsed the ‘ASEAN Guidelines on Promoting the Utilisation of Digital Technologies in the Food and Agriculture Sector’. Digitalisation in ASEAN member states has been focussed on enhancing food security and supply chain stability while maintaining laissez-faire market settings. The digitalisation of food production aims to use ‘smart farming’ technologies, including Internet of Things technologies, to boost crop productivity amid changing agroclimatic environments.

The digitalisation of ASEAN member states’ supply chains includes using e-commerce platforms to help farmers increase their income by selling directly to consumers and traceability technologies to assure food quality and safety. ASEAN member states’ policies contribute to greater food availability and affordability by helping farmers increase their productivity and market competitiveness.

India is also pursuing pockets of digitalisation in food production and supply chains through digital farmer advisory, e-commerce and traceability. What distinguishes India is its expansive subsidised grain distribution system that supports its nation-wide DRC system. This system is not governed by laissez-faire principles alone, it is also supported by food security objectives.

India’s low GDP per capita of around US$2000 means it is loath to adopt a purely laissez-faire approach which risks having insufficient food stocks during disruptions — forcing reliance on expensive imported grains. Instead, the Indian government intervenes in food production and supply chains to ensure sufficient domestic grain production and supplies. The government commits to purchasing any quality-standard crops farmers produce at a minimum support price that is recommended by India’s Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices.

Setting a higher minimum support price incentivises farmers to adopt agricultural technologies like fertiliser supplies and better-quality seeds. Still, it can also incentivise farmers to devote more water and land to subsidised crops like wheat, rice and sugar. This can increase the price of non-essential produce and lead to a less efficient use of resources and greater CO2 emissions.

The government’s Food Corporation India, which procures crops and manages India’s grain stockpiles, provides information on expected stockpile shortages owing to farming disruptions. This signals the need for the government to raise the minimum support price to bridge potential food supply gaps.

India’s combination of laissez-faire and food-security-focussed stockpile management minimises the country’s reliance on expensive grain imports. This allows India to subsidise a greater quantity of its domestically produced food. In contrast to India, ASEAN member states, which follow a purely laissez-faire approach, make no such grain purchasing commitments.

ASEAN is seeing successive disruptions to food supply beyond COVID-19, including rising food and energy prices and the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on food supply chains. India’s effective ‘shock-proofing’ of its food supply system should be closely investigated by ASEAN. But India’s food security approach is not readily applicable because ASEAN member states do not guarantee to purchase crops at pre-identified prices.

By not offering such a guarantee, ASEAN member states are effectively leaving farmers to decide how much food to produce. They are failing to ensure sufficient food supplies during disruptions, including the current Russia–Ukraine war and the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, security of supply is another consideration and India, relying heavily on domestic production, may find itself exposed to natural disaster or climatic risks that leave it looking for imported food from elsewhere.

With these costs in mind, it is worth re-evaluating the merits of the current laissez-faire approach to food security and whether alternative approaches like India’s could improve ASEAN member states’ preparation for future disruptions.

A version of this article was first published here in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Commentary.

Jose Ma Luis Montesclaros is Research Fellow with the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

An Alternative Framework for Disaster Governance in Asean

by S. Nanthini and Lina Gong
Published on 22 August 2022

Op-Eds

As countries around the world are learning to co-exist with Covid-19, the implications of the pandemic for policy management of varied issues facing them should not be overlooked. Disaster governance is one of the sectors that have been significantly affected by pandemic-related restrictions and resource constraints. Climate change further increases the complexity and challenges in disaster governance.

With concurring natural hazards further stretching national and regional capacities and resources in the region over the past two years, Asean has deliberated and assessed necessary changes and reforms to prepare itself better for natural hazards in the future. Exemplified by the release of the Asean Disaster Resilience Outlook in October last year, the grouping is shifting towards disaster resilience, emphasising its ability to not only deal with disasters but also recover from them.

With a Growing Appetite for Meat and Disruption in Production, Asia has a Looming Food Crisis

by Paul Teng, and Genevieve Donnellon-May
Published on 8 June 2022

Op-Eds

The Russia-Ukraine war, a conflict between two agricultural powerhouses, is having serious consequences on the export of many key agricultural products.

As major grain exporters, Russia and Ukraine account for around 25-30 per cent of the world’s wheat exports, 15 per cent of the world’s corn exports and 2.1 per cent of the world’s soybean exports.

While these may seem small relative to the global figures, they are nevertheless important as many Asian countries import from this European region.

The reduction of these three major agricultural products in global supply chains has already caused skyrocketing food prices, food export bans and shortages.

For many Asian countries, wheat, corn, and soybeans are used in animal feed to produce beef, pork, poultry and fish for their domestic markets.

ASIA’S GROWING APPETITE FOR MEAT

In recent decades, meat production and consumption have increased in Asia, particularly in China where, following market reforms in 1978, per capita meat consumption jumped almost six-fold in four decades alongside the rise of domestic production.

Other Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea as well as the Asean  economies  Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines,  Vietnam and Thailand  are also part of the ‘meatification’ process of Asia.

The demand for meat (beef, pork, chicken and fish) is driven by urbanisation, improved standards of living, and changing dietary preferences of the region’s growing urban middle-class.

In 2021, 47 per cent of Southeast Asia’s total 667 million people lived in urban areas. Additionally, Southeast Asian economies are projected to grow collectively by 4.9 per cent this year, leading to increases in gross domestic product per capita.

DISRUPTION IN ASIA’S FEEDSTOCK AND MEAT PRODUCTION

The three biggest beef-eating countries in Asia – China, India and Japan – are expected to further increase consumption to an estimated 10.2 million metric tonnes (mmt), 2.9 mmt and 1.3 mmt respectively this year.

Pork production in Asia is also expected to rise in 2022 in response to increased consumption demand. China leads in pork production with a forecast of 51.0 mmt this year, 7 per cent higher than in 2021.

Southeast Asia’s pork production, which increased by 23 per cent during 2009-2018, is expected to soar another 21 per cent by 2028.

Currently, Asia’s top poultry producers include China and Thailand which are projected to reach 14.3 mmt and 3.3 mmt respectively this year.

In the decade up to 2018, Southeast Asia’s poultry production skyrocketed by 56 per cent due to preference for poultry over pork.

In Asia, aquaculture is the biggest source of fish for human consumption. Although  China is the region’s biggest farmed fish producer, strong production growth is expected to continue elsewhere such as in India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.

All the above meat production requires feed, of which the main components are corn and soybean. Asian countries generally do not produce enough corn or soybean, despite countries like China, the Philippines and Thailand having substantial areas of corn.

For soybeans, aside from China, areas grown are low, especially in Southeast Asia where soybean production in 2018 was one-tenth of the amount needed by the livestock industry.

GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAIN DISRUPTION

The Russia-Ukraine war has effectively reduced the global supply of corn, soybean and wheat respectively by 15 per cent, 2 per cent and 25-30 per cent.

Additionally, due to the inter-connected nature of global supply chains (and shipping), blockades in the Black Sea area have created ripple effects in other parts of the world, delaying grain shipments. Furthermore, several Asian countries depend on the Russia-Ukraine area for the above animal feed components.

In 2020, 54.8 per cent of Bangladesh’s wheat were from Ukraine and Russia.

Other reliant Asian countries include Kyrgyzstan (72.5 per cent), Laos (98.4 per cent), Mongolia (99.9 per cent), Malaysia (21.7 per cent), Pakistan (48.9 per cent), Indonesia (26.6 per cent), the Philippines (7.99 per cent), Thailand (15.7 per cent), and Uzbekistan (98.8 per cent).

The main destinations of Ukrainian corn exports in Asia were China (28.3 per cent of total Ukrainian corn exports), South Korea (4.58 per cent), Vietnam (0.69 per cent) and Bangladesh (0.37 per cent).

The most reliant countries on Ukrainian and Russia corn imports include China (51.9 per cent), Kazakhstan (33.3 per cent), Mongolia (87.1 per cent), South Korea (11.1 per cent), and Vietnam (5.9 per cent).

In the same year, Russian soybean exports to Asia were 59 per cent to China, 2.2 per cent to South Korea, 1.6 per cent to Kazakhstan and 0.8 per cent to Uzbekistan.

However, 66.6 per cent of Kazakhstan’s imported soybeans and 43.7 per cent of Mongolia’s were from Russia. In contrast, Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand were less reliant on Russian soybean.

OUTLOOK FOR ASIA

Any reduction in feed availability will affect Asia’s meat production. Supply chain delays arising from the Russia-Ukraine area have caused temporary shortages which drive up commodity prices.

In such situations, livestock prices, especially the more feed-intensive poultry and pork sectors, will feel the most impact.

However, countries such as China, which uses a dual strategy to diversify food imports and increase domestic production, are better prepared than others to deal with these challenges.

Alternative sources of imports are also available if supply chains can be created. For example, Australia and Canada are possible sources of corn; Argentina, Brazil and the United States for soybean; and Canada, France and the US for wheat.

Prolonging the Russia-Ukraine crisis will inevitably destabilise production and cause ripple effects throughout the Asian region. Malaysia’s chicken export ban from June 1 due to the shortage and higher feed prices has led to a reduced domestic supply of chicken and increased prices.

SELF-FULFILLING EFFECT?

The number of countries concerned about their own domestic food security may lead to more countries anticipating shortages of key food items and therefore reducing exports or banning them altogether.

This phenomenon has a self-fulfilling effect of aggravating supply shortages further even though stocks in toto may be adequate. But with respect to meat, higher priced animal feed can only lead to shortages and higher prices.

For the longer term, Asia needs to redress the large yield gaps in its production of corn, soybean and wheat to ensure that its reliance on imports is lessened.

This would require renewed efforts at improving crop yields using modern breeding technologies (like gene editing), improved water and fertiliser supplies, and improving farmer management skills.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Genevieve Donnellon-May is a master’s student in Water Science, Policy and Management at the University of Oxford. Paul Teng is an adjunct senior fellow at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. This first appeared in RSIS Commentary.

Will the Benefits of Laos’s Future Hydropower Infrastructure Projects Outweigh the Costs?

by Jose Ma. Luis P. Montesclaros
Published on 17 May 2022

Chapters in Edited Books

Abstract

Some have framed a dichotomy between Laos’s sustainable development building on hydroelectricity and their negative environmental impacts. This chapter argues that since 2010, Laos has already had sufficient electricity to meet relevant sustainable development goals. As such, the real trade-off today is between revenues to capital owners in the energy sector and incomes and livelihoods of workers in the agriculture, fisheries, tourism, and other tourism-linked sectors. These redistributive impacts make future hydropower expansion a sensitive political decision to be continued only if the net valuations of these projects from investors’ and society’s standpoint are still positive after integrating the design requirements for sustainable hydropower expansion, as well as the measures to mitigate their societally disruptive impacts.

Forced Displacement and Economic Development: Assessing the Impacts of China-Funded Projects in Myanmar

Published on 17 May 2022

Chapters in Edited Books

Disrupted Trade, Labour, and Politics in the Mekong River Basin

The ‘Mother of Waters’ is heavily troubled. There is an immediate need to reset the institutional rules that are either too outdated, lack regulatory teeth, or fail to substantially address both old and emerging concerns. If governments fail to do this, a unique ecosystem will die, in effect destroying the lives of millions of people. The volume, published by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung’s (KAS) Regional Economic Programme Asia (SOPAS), contains country-specific papers or case studies on trade, labour, and China’s growing political influence in the Greater Mekong Region. Topics include (1) labour migration and displacement in the Mekong River basin, (2) the impact of pandemics on economic and social patterns, (3) interregional trade and growing competitiveness, and (4) geopolitical issues resulting from coercive water and energy politics, among others. The chapters also provide discussions on how each state’s respective national framework attempts to address these issues.
Defence Diplomacy as a Tool to Cope with the Climate Crisis

by S. Nanthini
Published on 31 March 2022

Op-Eds

The recently published Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has highlighted significant increases in extreme weather events, which are likely to lead to food insecurity and increased migration flows. The increasing visibility of climate change is only matched by growing awareness of the threat it poses, with militaries likely to face more pressure to develop their humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) capabilities while also maintaining traditional defence capabilities.

Authorities evacuate those affected by Typhoon Ra, 22 December 2021 (Photo: Reuters/Handout/Latin America News Agency).

Defence diplomacy, broadly understood as military-to-military interactions, activities and policies to build and maintain national security, would be a useful tool for states to advance their foreign policy goals in the ongoing climate crisis.

One useful aspect of defence diplomacy is that it need not only be between countries with close relationships. As it can build confidence between states, it can also involve cooperation, or at least the execution of military-to-military cooperative activities between rival countries. Climate change presents opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation, such as providing HADR in a world facing increasingly extreme weather events. Rival countries could participate in HADR exercises at least multilaterally, if not bilaterally. After all, climate change affects everyone, and excluding rival countries in climate cooperation limits any real response.

In Southeast Asia — already one of the world’s most disaster-prone regions — climate change is set to increase the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. As the region’s primary responders to disasters, militaries will need to scale up their capabilities through regional defence cooperation and defence diplomacy.

The Changi Regional HADR Coordination Centre in Singapore is one such example of regional defence diplomacy. The centre shares information on disasters in the region, facilitates military-to-military coordination and deployment and holds exercises. By hosting military officers from around the world, it also creates a network of international liaison officers. While the centre may not work specifically in climate security, its role as a regional centre facilitates engagement between militaries. After all, sustained and substantive military-to-military interactions allows states to improve their understanding of each other’s strategies and, importantly, establish lines of communication.

As the region’s key platforms for multilateral defence cooperation, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting and Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus are well placed to address military responses to the climate crisis. Broadening their mandates to include climate security, either as a separate expert working group or part of the Experts’ Working Group on HADR, will allow militaries to coordinate and expand their base of mutual knowledge on climate-related disasters. As the probability of another climate-induced mega-disaster such as Typhoon Haiyan or Cyclone Nargis looms ever-closer, regional militaries should jointly develop a framework for climate-induced disaster responses before the next disaster hits.

Yet there are limits to defence diplomacy. The main focus of the military has always been its traditional war-fighting capabilities, with non-traditional security affairs a firm second. For example, the Ukraine crisis has brought the spectre of war to Europe — the ‘moral centre’ and significant funder of climate change policies. When states are on a war footing, the focus on climate change risks being placed on the back burner. Greater resources are already being pledged to bolster traditional military capacities — which are notoriously energy-intensive and high emission-producing — and diverting already limited focus and resources from climate security.

The results of defence diplomacy are also dependent on the overall political relationship between the states involved. For example, though the United States and China have previously participated in military-to-military exchanges and cooperated militarily to address non-traditional security threats, the recent chill in wider political relations has limited broad cooperation between two of the world’s biggest emitters. Defence diplomacy can provide an opportunity for states to pursue greater cooperation on climate policies while building confidence, but it is only one part of a broader climate strategy.

The world needs to take greater action to combat climate change as an existential crisis for humanity. At the same time, as temperatures continue to warm and climate-induced disasters intensify, militaries have a key role to play in the response to climate change, particularly where they are the main responders to disasters. Despite the limits to its effectiveness, defence diplomacy is still a useful tool in enhancing interoperability, building confidence and strengthening relationships with other states in the region — all vital in the ongoing climate crisis.

S Nanthini is a Senior Analyst in the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

The Logistical Challenge of Responding to Disaster

by Lina Gong
Published on 28 March 2022

Op-Eds

The humanitarian community has been challenged by major shocks in the past two years – the Covid-19 pandemic, a military coup in Myanmar, an invasion of Ukraine only the most prominent. These events, together with climate change as a threat multiplier, are changing the operating environment for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations of military forces.

Logistics have proved a major issue. The pandemic hit emergency response particularly hard in terms of deployment of personnel and movement of relief items, from the mass transport of personal protective equipment to careful management of vaccine distribution. In Myanmar, humanitarian workers had to cope with restrictions caused by both Covid-19 and in the aftermath of the February 2021 military coup. And fighting in Ukraine in recent weeks following Russia’s invasion is a powerful reminder that a humanitarian crisis could break out in unexpected places.

Training should be designed to increase awareness about the evolving risks in disaster relief and prepare military personnel for harsher and more complex operating environments.

In the long run, the climate crisis threatens the safety and accessibility of infrastructure and facilities for emergency response, with effects projected to become more intense. In Southeast Asia, for instance, the latest IPCC report predicts that the region will have significant increases in extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and strong monsoons. Moreover, countries and communities which used not to be disaster-prone are now increasingly vulnerable. Several states of Malaysia were hit by deadly floods in December, including some in the central and west coast of the peninsula which are not typically affected.

Existing logistical planning will need to be adjusted. Shifting patterns of disasters will also change the availability and accessibility of infrastructure and equipment for operations. The Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, for instance, is the world’s most vulnerable to sea level rise. Indonesia is planning to relocate its capital as Jakarta is threatened by climate risks.

The response to the tsunami following the volcanic eruption in Tonga in January was a further example of the difficultly involved with deploying personnel in the field during a pandemic. The Tongan government was reluctant to accept deployment of foreign humanitarian workers due to the concern about Covid-19.

Australian military personnel deliver a water tank following the tsunami in January on Tonga’s Nomuka Island (Defence Department)

Political and security tensions adds to volatility when the military seeks to fulfill humanitarian responsibilities. Not wanting to be be seen to take sides was a concern for Australia and Pacific neighbours when responding to a request last November for assistance following riots in Solomon Islands. Likewise, after the coup in Myanmar, many governments have avoided official engagement with Myanmar so as not to render legitimacy to the military government. As a result, alternative channels for humanitarian assistance have been explored outside the official channel. During the Covid-19 Delta wave in mid-2021, Singapore sent oxygen concentrators to Myanmar through the Singapore Red Cross. In contrast, Singapore’s assistance to Indonesia in the same period was delivered by the Changi Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre.

The sanctions on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine have further strained global shipping industry and supply chains, which have struggled during the pandemic. Even in the face of a growing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, no one would seriously countenance the deployment of foreign military forces to provide relief aid at this stage.

The experience in response to these recent challenges shows a need to adapt humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operation logistics. Remote support such as contactless humanitarian aid has been adopted to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But more adaptation will be required. The resilience of warehouses for relief supplies should be enhanced to reduce disruption by climate-extremes in the future, particularly with heatwaves and floods expected to become more common and intense.

Training should be designed to increase awareness about the evolving risks in disaster relief and prepare military personnel for harsher and more complex operating environments. Private logistic companies can also be partners for military forces with limited overseas facilities. Prior agreements on sharing assets, facilities, human resources and networks between militaries as well as between military and non-military actors can alleviate the constraints in times of disasters.

But some rules from previous experience will endure. As always, information sharing is crucial for effective remote logistical support, as accurate information about the needs as well as the national and international response forms the basis of decisions to ensure help is delivered where most needed.

Collaborative Governance to Achieve ASEAN Community Vision 2025– Implementing the Blueprint

Published on 7 January 2022

Policy Reports
COP26: Much Achieved, Huge Opportunities Missed

Published on 18 November 2021

Op-Eds

World Leaders Loath to Quit Fossil Fuels

Prior to COP26, a slew of reports were released to warn governments of the consequences of failure to slash emissions. Fortunately, the Glasgow climate deal directly referenced coal and fossil fuels, pledged new targets to end deforestation, and urged countries to speed up the submission of their carbon reduction plans. These actions show a stronger determination to close the existing emissions gap, which will if not addressed raise temperatures a devastating 2.4oC by the end of the century.

Given the fast-closing window to reach the Paris Agreement target, developed countries’ promising to double adaptation funding to developing countries implies an acknowledgment of increasingly worsening climate-induced disasters, preparing for which can no longer be delayed.

Although setting higher targets reflects progress, it does little to ensure that failures to deliver on pledges will not be repeated. Developed countries have not fulfilled their decade-old promise to deliver $100 billion to developing countries annually. Deforestation initiatives have failed to meet expectations. Ending the use of coal and fossil fuels has been slow despite fierce calls in recent years to do so.

At the heart of these failures are the global economic system and national economic agendas. Developed countries seek to maintain certain levels of resource-intensive lifestyles. On the other hand, developing countries aspire to lift their populations out of poverty and increase their standards of living, possibly emulating developed countries. Continuous exploitation of natural resources is inevitable to supporting such economic models. Measures such as deforestation are thus inherently difficult to carry out.

Further, cheap energy is critical to keeping overall production costs low. It is not surprising that watered-down language such as “unfiltered” coal “phase-down” and “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies phase-out made it into the final deal. As long as they make economic sense, coal and fossil fuels are here to stay.

Countries may forge ahead with more ambitious climate targets, but unless efforts are made to address problems related to resource-intensive consumerism and accompanying economic system, the goal of meeting the 1.5oC target is likely to remain on life support.