The regional coverage can be broken down into the sub-regions of Central Asia and Caucasus. Both are prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods. Six out of eight countries in the region have a recent history of intra- or inter-state conflict. The Caucasus sub-region is better prepared than the Central Asian sub-region, but both are at risk of being affected by local and global risks and hazards. These include intra- and inter-state conflicts, terrorism, and frequent natural disasters exacerbated by geostrategic energy competition, climate change, population growth and migration. The Central Asian sub-region is one of the world’s most seismically active areas. Floods, landslides, extreme weather events and droughts regularly cause significant human loss and economic and environmental damage. Food insecurity is growing in several countries in the sub-region, often as a result of insufficient food and as a consequence of the global economic crisis spiking food prices.
Humanitarian needs are rising, and factors such as continued inaccessibility to affected areas continue to threaten the humanitarian space. Another constraint is the relative reluctance by governments and organizations to work within the multilateral system. Public awareness of humanitarian principals remains low, and the principles are often rejected or dismissed by central or local governments. In some instances, there is reluctance by governments to grant the UN and its partners access to affected areas or to formally request international assistance.
The Caucasus is home to several unresolved political and territorial conflicts. The ongoing separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia continue to cause regional tension. Disputes over Nagorno-Karabakh also remain unresolved leaving relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan extremely tense.
In Central Asia, a long-standing water-flow dispute between upstream and downstream countries has escalated, with both sides resorting to hostile action. Border incidents are commonplace, and there are outbreaks of localized violence along porous and still largely un-demarcated borders. In June 2010 the extended political crisis in Kyrgyzstan prompted an outbreak of inter-ethnic violence and the displacement of more than 400,000 people. The regional political stability is further threatened by region-wide, inter-state disputes over land, water, energy and other vital resources.
Within the last 150 years, almost all countries in the Central Asian sub-region and some Caucasus states have experienced devastating earthquakes. The Central Asian sub-region is only now entering its active seismological phase. Major urban areas are disproportionately vulnerable. Throughout the twentieth century, earthquakes have levelled parts of regional capital cities, such as Almaty in 1911, Ashgabat in 1948 and Tashkent in 1966. In Ashgabat, 56,000 people died. In Tashkent, 100,000 people were affected.
Recent earthquakes in the region are indicative of the devastating potential of major earthquakes in highly populated areas. International studies show that within the next 20 years there is a 40 per cent probability that an earthquake with intensity of XI (catastrophic) on the Medvedev-Sponheuer-Karnik scale will strike near one of the region’s capital cities. Most of these cities have a population of at least 1 million.
Water scarcity and recurring drought continue to affect the region. This leads to food insecurity, energy shortages and urbanization, particularly in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Low water levels in the reservoirs of two major Central Asian hydropower stations caused energy shortages in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and a shortage of irrigation water in downstream countries. Glaciers in the region have been melting faster in recent years, increasing glacial run offs, mudflows, landslides and land degradation.
Meteorological hazards in the region primarily include floods, drought, hail, strong winds and extreme temperatures. They occur with greater frequency than geophysical hazards and at all scales, from small river basins (in the case of floods) to major river basins and large portions of the region (in the case of severe floods and droughts). During the 2007/8 winter, extreme cold and energy shortages combined with the deteriorating food-security situation in Tajikistan caused a humanitarian crisis primarily affecting millions of urban residents. Such compound crises have become more common in the Central Asian sub-region, with slow-onset emergencies now a new challenge for the humanitarian community.
The cost of food and fuel remains high and volatile. Food prices in Kyrgyzstan are at a historical peak. In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, about 18 and 30 per cent of population respectively are food insecure.
A new regional trend is a compound crisis, where gradual erosion of human security is compounded by multiple factors (such as climatic events, political instability, and poor development and infrastructure) creating new humanitarian caseloads. The impact of climate change is being reflected in more intense and frequent droughts and flash floods, the desertification of the Aral Sea and the melting of glaciers in the region.
Increasing competition over oil and gas resources could lead to increased local and regional instability. The Caspian Sea region, which includes the Caucasus and Central Asia, contains 4 to 6 per cent of the world’s gas reserves and 3 to 4 per cent of global oil reserves. While these percentages are comparatively small, the region represents a key supply route for energy importers such as the United States, the European Union and China.
Countries in the region can be loosely divided into two categories: middle-income countries that are prone to natural disasters and have a medium response capacity (inadequate capacity to respond to a major disaster affecting more than one province); and low-income countries that need international assistance or are at high risk of needing it.
While most countries in the region have established independent national disaster management authorities at ministerial level, others have assigned this task to branches within the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Interior or even the Prime Minister’s Office. In Central Asia, the emergency ministries are being transformed from military to civil protection models. As such they are being given more importance within Government structures.
Most countries within the ROCCA region are moving towards implementing the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015. However, budgets and human resource capacity are limited, and methodologies and concepts are outdated. Information is often restricted, which hampers cooperation with non-state actors. Domestic legislation needs to be adapted to facilitate international humanitarian assistance. Finally, there is at times a certain reluctance to formally request international assistance among some governments that lack capacity to respond to domestic emergencies.
Most Central Asian states are members of a range of overlapping security, economic and cultural networks and organizations that facilitate regional cooperation. Key organizations include the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Economic Cooperation Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. These initiatives include various configurations of the ROCCA countries working to establish regional cooperation.
Most Caucasus states participate in regional cooperation networks, such as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation forum, the Black Sea Force, the Caspian Sea Force and the Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova Organization for Democracy and Economic Development. At the global level, NATO and the European Union seek closer engagement in the Caucasus.
The newly established Centre for Disaster Response and Risk Reduction joined by Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan initially and open for other interested states, became an example of collaboration through sub-regional forums demonstrating that regional cooperation can be achieved through systematic and strategic engagement with ROCCA nations.
Central Asia includes the Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Caucasus (also termed ‘South Caucasus’) includes Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Central Asia Regional Risk Assessment, various reports, http://europeandcis.undp.org/senioreconomist, accessed October 2011.
Geohazards International, various reports cited October 2011 www.geohaz.org/
Current Geostrategy in the South Caucasus, Eurasia Net quoted October 2011 www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/pp010707.shtml