“Global food price shocks have demonstrated the urgent need to effectively address food insecurity in Southeast Asia – both at the national and regional level”

This think-piece goes beyond issues of supply and demand of food, and provides greater insight to the role of Human Security in understanding the issue of food security in a holistic manner. Click here to read the article.


Photo by George Reyes @ Flickr.

In a think piece “Ensuring Good Health During the Hajj in a Time of the H1N1 Pandemic”, I  – together with researchers at the RSIS Centre for NTS Studies – commented on the progress and prospects of H1N1 pandemic mitigation efforts in Saudi Arabia leading up to the annual Hajj pilgrimage in 2009.

The piece noted that despite the complex circumstances surrounding pandemic preparedness during the Hajj, successful mitigation of a pandemic spread is possible with efficient multi-sectoral cooperation amongst Hajj officials and pilgrims. Such efforts must also be given greater emphasis in the media so as to ensure accurate and holistic reporting of events thereby reduce the likelihood of media hypes of a pandemic outbreak.

To read the article, click here.

Landfill treasure

In a recent NTS Alert on urban vulnerabilities, it was noted that the informal economic sector plays a significant role in supporting the formal economic sector and thus deserves greater attention in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction initiatives. Waste-pickers make up one such section in the informal sector and are commonly found in cities of developing countries.

Similar to other members of the informal sector, many waste-pickers have moved from rural to urban areas in search of employment, but have largely ended up living in slum areas or even in garbage landfills. These individuals make a living from collecting items such as used plastic cups, bottles and scrap steel from the landfills to sell to recycling plants.

However, such a practice is not sustainable in the long run…

To read the full blog post, click here

RSIS Centre for NTS Studies' Year in Review 2012
RSIS Centre for NTS Studies’ Year in Review 2012

Think saving the planet is that easy? Think again.

If trying to understand the complex interactions between sciences, economics, culture, politics, security and global/regional frameworks is just not working for you and you’re close to giving up, then check this out.

For the fourth year running, the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies has released its Year in Review (2012). The Year in Review provides a snapshot of dominant NTS events/issues in 2012, particularly affecting the Asia-Pacific region.

This year’s publication focuses on the role of institutions in NTS and its feature article is on developments in Myanmar. Articles following that are based on the 5 themes: Climate, Energy, Food, Health and Water. The publication also includes a summary of activities and publications produced by the centre in 2012.

To view the report [in pdf], click here.

Recent media reports on the new wave of floods and landslides around the world have yet again highlighted the critical need for disaster preparedness and contingency plans to address the increasing intensity of weather related disasters. However, what has also played out more significantly in these incidents have been weather-related disasters’ direct adverse implications on sources of energy and economic development.

No Drive Thru, here.

This was particularly evident in Australia where the flooding of Queensland’s coal mines are predicted to cause an increase in the price of steelmaking coal as high as $500 per tonne , thus affected more than 90 per cent of Australia’s exports. The economic costs of recovering from the floods are also proving to have indirect costs on other aspects of development, where the education and health sectors are expected to bear the flood’s clean up costs. Such costs would, however, only be the tip of the iceberg as other parts of the country are preparing for impending floods.

Given such effects on a developed country such as Australia, one cannot but imagine extensive damage that would occur in developing countries, which also face a range of  pre-existing concerns that include poverty, poor governance and the lack of capacity to address the increasing rate of intense weather related disasters. The recent floods in Sri Lanka for instance have highlighted adverse effects to food security and even possible complications in former conflict regions that have undetonated mines. While the Philippines continues to recover from the massive damage of Typhoon Ketsana in 2009, government officials need to also deal with the effects of weather related disasters in other less developed regions of the country.

The future is not all bleak as several studies have already noted the potential costs and risks of various weather related disasters as well as the necessary solutions available to address these climate vulnerabilities. The Asian Development Bank, for instance, has highlighted Southeast Asia’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change and the various measures can be taken to mitigate these effects, while UNESCAP has examined ways of reducing vulnerability to disasters, building resilience and protecting hard-won development gains.

Despite such policy recommendations, it is still difficult for countries – whether developed or developing – to effectively address these concerns. Difficulties in coordination amongst various levels of governance and strained resources remain to be sore points and to some extent outweigh capacity building measures that only often bear fruit in the long term. It is therefore necessary for states to demonstrate their commitment to working with local and regional communities in formulating long term solutions beyond the realm of disasters. States must ensure that communities play a proactive role  not only in mitigating and preparing for the disasters, but also are at the helm of local development initiatives that would be able to sustain themselves, rather than depend on national/federal inputs.

This blog post also appears on the MacArthur Asia Security Initiative Blog.

"Work Safely". Yah Right!

The demand for coal is set to increase over the coming years, especially among developing countries. However, while coal may be a cheap source of energy to facilitate economic development, it is costly in terms of the implications for human security. Coal mining has been seen to adversely impact local communities and cause sociopolitical instability. Long-term environmental sustainability is also negatively affected.

In a recent paper, a colleague and I examined  the extent to which governance mechanisms have been successful in mitigating these socioeconomic and environmental costs, with a focus on China and Indonesia. Our paper also assessed the effectiveness of current initiatives designed to address the various forms of human insecurities stemming from coal mining in the two countries.

To read the article, please click here


I got this from a fellow Muslim sister, Alia, from the DC Green Muslims mailing list.  Found it lovely. Hope you do too.


Asalaamu ‘Alaikum!

Have you ever wondered why there is so much evil on the earth? Why are there so many environmental problems, so many wars, so many famines and sickness?

From Jan-Aug 2010 alone,

  • Destructive earthquakes (Haiti: 12/01/10- catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake killing almost 300,000 ppl and leaving 1.5mil ppl homeless, one of the WORST earthquakes in history),
  • Droughts (Russia: an estimated 10mil hectares of agricultural land has been devastated by the fires following the worst heatwave in Russian history),
  • Floods (Pakistan: covering 1/5 of the country, leaving more than 1500 ppl dead and 20mil ppl affected, THE WORST in UN history),
  • Heavy rains & landslides (China: Heavy rains have affected more than 300mil ppl and caused $1.7bn in economic losses across the country; more than 2,100 ppl are dead or missing across China due to floods and landslides; 12mil people have been evacuated from their homes nationwide)
  • Famine (Niger: is also suffering from severe food shortages following a prolonged drought. The UN estimated that at least 7mil ppl, more than half the population, are facing starvation in Niger.)
  • Drug war (Mexico: 26/08/10 – 72 bodies found near the US-Mexico border the biggest single discovery since the launch of a drug war four years ago)
  • Civil war (Sudan: 13 aid org’ns have been expelled from Sudan since the ICC issued an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir last year for reporting human rights abuses. The ongoing 7 yr conflict the UN estimates has left 300,000 dead and 2.7mil displaced.)
  • Oil spill: (Gulf of Mexico: up to 79% of the 4.1mil barrels of oil that gushed from the broken well and were not captured directly at the wellhead remained in the Gulf. Many species are currently nesting and reproducing in the area, and an entire generation of hundreds of species could be lost as a result. Countless marine birds could also be affected, as the area is a primary flyway for many species, currently in its peak migratory period. New information also reveals that BP is using 100,000 gallons of dispersants (1/3 of the world’s supply) on the oil, further contaminating the ocean with harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, the true environmental ramifications of this catastrophe won’t be known for years to come. Not only marine life and beaches are affected, but also the health of countless ppl are also at risk
  • War: Israel vs Palestine: 22 day War on Gaza 2008-2009- crowded into a strip of land 40km long and 10km wide, Gaza’s 1.5 million people suffer from widespread poverty, malnutrition and unemployment, a situation only worsened by Israel’s bloodiest assault on the territory in decades. 1,434 Palestinians were killed (235 were combatants, 960 civilians lost their lives, incl 288 children & 121 women. A total of 5,303 Palestinians were injured in the assault (incl 1,606 children and 828 women. About 100,000 Gazans lost their homes in the three-week war; the shooting at medical crews; the use of illegal munitions against a civilian population, including white phosphorus shells; the prevention of the evacuation of wounded; bombing and shelling of schools, hospitals, supply convoys and a UN facility. Israeli death toll: 13, 10 of which were combatants.

to just name a few if you weren’t aware….

It’s because of you. Yes, you. And me, and the rest of man.

Many times when we are struck with a trial or calamity, our first reaction is the thought: “why me?!” Yet the sad fact is that we do not realize these trials are a result of what our own hands have reaped.

Allah azza wa jal says in a monumental ayah for our times:

ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُمْ بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

“Evil has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned, that He (Allah) may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return”. (30:41)

Allah ta’ala says ‘fasaad’ has become apparent. Fasaad means an imbalance and is the opposite of ‘islaah’ (reformation). Fasaad is when something decays, spoils and it is not as it should be. There are two types of fasaad: tangible evil such as famine, drought, wars and intangible such as bad manners and doing shirk.

This ayah does not only state that evil has appeared on the land, but it includes the land and sea. On the land, there is physical land pollution, drought, earthquakes and vegetation is scarce. There is also an imbalance in the people of the land. Such fasaad is also evident in the sea: the water is polluted, and certain species that live within it are nearing extinction.

How is it that we are the cause of this fasaad? Allah ta’ala says:

بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ

because of what the hands of men have reaped.

The “ba” in the beginning is known as the ‘ba of reason’ or ‘ba of causation’, showing that it is through continuous sinning without repentance, disbelief in Allah and corruption that fasaad has appeared. Abu Al-’Aliyah said: “Whoever disobeys Allah in the earth has corrupted it, because the good condition of the earth and the heavens depends on obedience to Allah.”

Allah ta’ala only mentions the hands of men because most of our deeds are done by our hands and our hands represent action.

This fasaad has appeared:

لِيُذِيقَهُمْ بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا

that He (Allah) may make them taste a part of that which they have done.

The ‘laam’ here is known as ’laam of ‘illah’, of reason. The reason for the appearance of evil is so that we are made to taste and experience what our own hands have reaped.

An interesting part of this ayah is the word بَعْضَba’dha, which means “some” of the consequences. The fasaad on the earth is not a complete retribution of what people have done, rather Allah ta’ala only gives us a taste of the consequence in this dunya. Imagine, everything that is going on around us is only some of what man has done!

May Allah have mercy on Imam Sa’di who said in his tafseer of this ayah:

Then how Exalted and Glorified is Allah! He blessed through His trials and favored by His end results, and if He made the people taste the full consequence of what they earned, not even one creature would remain on the earth.

Allah azza wa jal then ends the ayah,

لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

in order that they may return.

SubhanAllah, the reason as to why there is fasaad upon this earth is so that we may return to Allah azza wa jal: from wrong actions to right actions, from disobedience to obedience, from imbalance to the balance of the earth.

Islaah, reformation, is a part of tawbah. Allah ta’ala says:

إِلَّا الَّذِينَ تَابُوا وَأَصْلَحُوا

Except those who repent, and do islaah: reformation to good. (4:146)

Take these signs around us as a blessing; how Merciful is Allah to let us see what our own hands have repead so that we may repent! Turn back to Allah and ask for His Forgiveness before it’s too late.

Shaykh ibn al-Uthaymeen rahimahullah beautifully said:

“By Allah, sins effect the security of a land; they effect its ease, its prosperity, its economy; and they effect the hearts of its people. Sins cause alienation between people. Sins cause one Muslim to regard his Muslim brother as if he were upon a religion other than Islam.
But if we sought to rectify ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and those in our areas, and everyone we are able to rectify, if we mutually encouraged good and forbade evil, if we assisted those who do this with wisdom and wise admonition- then it would produce unity and harmony”

A media report earlier this month noted that a former Defence Chief, Lieutenant-General Desmond Kuek, would appointed to Permanent Secretary post at the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR).

My first impressions of this shift:

1) Environmental and Water issues are taken seriously and given as much attention as other traditional security/military issues.

2) MEWR will possibly run a tighter ship, based on military timing and efficiency.

3) Possibilities of greater integration and cross sectoral cooperation, thereby effectively mainstreaming human security issues into the conventional political realm. 

To read the report in the Today paper, please click on the following link: TODAYonline | Singapore | Former Defence Chief appointed to Permanent Secretary post at MEWR.

By Mely Caballero-Anthony, Irene A. Kuntjoro & Sofiah Jamil*

The devastation and catastrophe wrought by Typhoon Kestana on the Philippines’ capital Manila reflect a huge gap between rising vulnerabilities and preparedness at the national and regional level. As more studies reveal that climate change results in more devastating cyclones, how can the region better prepare for future emergencies?

Tropical cyclones and flooding are nothing new to the Philippines. On an average, the country experiences about 20 typhoon storms annually. Yet, when typhoon Kestana hit the country, the deluge caused the worst floods in more than 40 years, with a death toll rising to at least 250, and displacing more than 500,000 people. This suggests that there remains a gap between what is known about the increasing vulnerabilities of populations as a result of climate-related disasters and what is effectively being done about it. The Kestana experience is only a preview of what is to come for low-lying regions in Southeast Asia unless immediate efforts are done to address this gap.

The Science, the Insecurities and Ill-preparedness

Kestana and its aftermath have vividly shown the kinds of human insecurities that stem from the effects of climate change. Firstly, the heavy rainfall as a result of Kestana reflects the severe impact of climate change as indicated in climate change studies, which have predicted the emergence of more intense and frequent storms. Secondly, the coastal and low-lying areas that have been inundated by Kestana – in particular the National Capital region and Central Luzon – have already been highlighted in scientific reports as highly vulnerable to tropical cyclones and flooding. The International Development and Research Centre’s report on Climate Change Vulnerability Mapping in Southeast Asia is the latest of these findings. Thirdly, the intense rainfall has opened the floodgates to a plethora of human insecurities – damaged properties, significant population displacement, destruction to agricultural crops that threaten economic livelihoods and food security, and the threats of infectious diseases stemming from the lack of clean water and sanitation.

Yet, while these climatic effects are not uncommon to the Philippines, government officials found themselves struggling to cope with the humanitarian emergencies that are unfolding days after the typhoon’s aftermath. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, government officials have largely been reactive in their response to the disaster. There continues to be a lack of improvement made in Philippines’ disaster preparedness capacity. Reports indicated that public warning systems failed to effectively alert the communities of what was happening due to power shortages caused by the storm. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, a member of the Philippines’ National Disaster Co-ordinating Council also admitted that the authorities were inadequately prepared to respond to several affected provinces all at the same time. Thus, the assumption that annual floods would only affect a few provinces occasionally has strained limited resources, especially at the local government level.

The reactive response relates to the fact that the country’s politicians have failed to recognise the importance and implications of climate insecurities. The failure to think in the long term and acknowledge the relevance of scientific evidence render the country even more vulnerable to predicted climatic impact, resulting in haphazard responses—a little too late.

Thirdly, while government agencies are now doing their utmost in responding to humanitarian emergencies, the lack of effective rescue and relief assistance available to all affected citizens only heighten their insecurities. News reports of food aid shortages and the lack of sanitation facilities in overcrowded shelters have led to a great deal of anger and frustration within the local population towards perceived government inefficiency. The tough conditions in these temporary shelters has only exacerbated the problem with some flood victims refusing to evacuate from their homes with rescue workers as they would rather take the risk and remain behind to protect their property from looters.

Faced with the daunting task of reaching out to hundreds of thousands of victims, the Philippines has appealed to the international community for humanitarian assistance. While efforts are on-going, one thing is certain: reactive measures are unsustainable and will not guarantee the security of communities and the stability of the state in the long run.

Whither the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management?

It is an irony that Kestana occurred in the same month the Philippines ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER). As all member states have finally ratified the agreement since it was signed in 2005, AADMER will enter into force by the end of 2009. This reflects a collective will to build a more rigorous regional disaster response. Having to experience a series of humanitarian emergencies and being a vulnerable region to various climatic hazards, ASEAN has learnt to cooperate and coordinate on disaster management. Even before the AADMER was ratified, a comprehensive framework was initiated under five components of the ASEAN Regional Programme on Disaster Management (ARPDM) 2004-2010. A number of activities have also been implemented. This indicates a substantial amount of progress on the part of the regional bloc in improving its preparedness.

When national capacity is overwhelmed by the unprecedented magnitude of a disaster as shown by Kestana, humanitarian assistance from the international community is imperative. In comparison to Cyclone Nargis last year, the Philippines government has set a good example by opening up to international assistance. Therefore, ASEAN, that aims to be an action-based integrated community, should be the first to come in with a cooperative and coordinated regional response. However, looking at recent developments, it has failed to act in a timely manner.

This calls for further strengthening of the regional capacity on disaster management. The ARPDM has set a platform for a comprehensive approach to disaster management but the existing framework continues to be under-utilised. The AADMER is designed to put in place structures, mechanisms and strategies for regional cooperation on disaster management. In order to serve its purpose, several key points are noteworthy. First, an integrated disaster management starting from risk reduction, responsive relief and sustainable rebuilding should be implemented equally. However, developing a reliable and responsive relief could be a practical starting point. This brings us to the second point on the importance of military operations other than war (MOOTW) in disaster relief. The military has the advantage of assets and personnel to be effectively involved in relief efforts. However, the involvement of the military could be perceived as an interference to sovereignty. Therefore, in cases such as that of Cyclone Nargis, ASEAN should play an intermediary role. Third, civil-military cooperation should be fostered as it is part of the actions to building an ASEAN Security Community.

Fourth, the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) should be formed soon. The first task of this Centre would be to adopt operational guidelines for the coordination and cooperation of ASEAN member states. The AHA Centre should be able to build effective partnerships with other international organisations such as the World Health Organization, the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations as well as with ASEAN dialogue partners through ASEAN-related frameworks such as ASEAN+3, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asian Summit. Fifth, apart from mainstreaming disaster management into development plans, ASEAN should factor climate change into its political, security, social and economic policies. Clearly, a declaration focusing on sustainable development is far from enough. ASEAN environmental cooperation and policies need to be revisited and geared towards developing a more comprehensive approach to building state and community resilience.

An Opportunity to be seized

Disasters such as Typhoon Kestana have once again provided an opportunity to revisit existing national and regional disaster preparedness mechanisms, as well as to realise different components of the AADMER. ASEAN and its member states do not need to wait for another disaster to build momentum to advance national and regional disaster preparedness. Against the scenarios of climate-induced vulnerabilities, it is imperative that disaster preparedness mechanisms be strengthened in parallel with long term initiatives on sustainable development, in order to build societal resilience in ASEAN.

*Mely Caballero-Anthony, Irene A Kuntjoro and Sofiah Jamil are, respectively: Head, Associate Research Fellow and Research Analyst at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. To view this commentary in pdf format, click here.