The latest edition of Conflict Weekly covers: Floods in Bihar, Nepal and Bangladesh, Abduction of a journalist in Pakistan, Neutralization of militants in Srinagar, and the UNAMA report on Afghanistan | Contributors to this edition are: Alok Gupta, Mahesh Bhatta, Adnan Aziz Chowdhury, Sukanya Bali, D Suba Chandran and Abigail Miriam Fernandez
Flood multiples the Sorrows of Bihar; Government has not learnt from the lessons of the past
In the news
Eleven of the 38 districts of Bihar, consisting of 680 Panchayats of 87 Blocks are under the massive spell of flood amidst deluge, affecting lives of over 16 lakhs people. Darbhanga is the worst affected followed by Muzaffarpur and East Champaran where lives of 5.36 lakhs, two lakhs and 2.72 lakhs people have been affected by floods respectively.
As of now, ten people have lost their lives, though the figure stands disputed as some reports say 130 people have died so far. Over 1.4 lakhs people have been evacuated to safer places. Bagmati, Burhi Gandak, Kamlabalan, Lalbakeya, Adhwara, Khiro, Mahananda and Ghaghra have crossed the danger level. Ganga too, has been swelling every day.
West Champaran situated on the Indo-Nepal border is facing the worst ever wrath of Gandak river which originates in Nepal and has affected 1.43 lakhs of people. Gopalganj is affected on account of the breaching at several places in Saran embankment owing to pressure of river Gandak.
Communications through rail and road have been affected as railway bridges, and NH-28 got inundated. Communication is affected by nearly 505 small and long roads in the affected areas. State institutional infrastructure like police stations and hospitals, also are affected in many flooded districts.
More than 22 teams of NDRF and SDRF including Indian Air Force, have been pressed in the rescue mission. Nearly 500 community kitchens are working to feed over two lakhs affected people. Food packets are also being air-dropped to those stranded in floodwaters.
Issues at large
Nearly 85 per cent of the total land of Bihar is under cultivation. Flood has been a frequent phenomenon in Bihar and has for long causing almost half of India’s average annual flood loss of life and livelihood. The frequency of flood, however, has increased since 1979 for the following reasons.
First, Bihar serves as the lowlands for the Himalayan rivers as most of it is plain. River Kosi continues to be the ‘Sorrow of Bihar’ even today. This year due to the extreme rainfall, Nepal was forced to open all 56 sluice gates of the Kosi barrage flooding Bihar. Gandak surged as Nepal opened the Balmikinagar barrage amidst incessant rain. Further, nearly 3000 kilometres of embankments constructed by State government have faced breaches in the wake of floods stating its quality and blinkered visions of engineers who could not visualize the changing nature of rivers, while working on embankments.
Second, deforestation and conversion of pastoral lands in Nepal. This is another major factor behind flood in the region. Further, climate change may be another cause that the flood inundated in July this year instead of August under normal circumstances.
Third, the lack of government initiative. People have been occupying the flood plains under the official’s nose, with no action against them. Further, the 2008 flood was severest in the recent past that submerged nearly half of the State, yet the Government still failed to learn lessons and seek solutions permanently.
Flood is both a boon and a bane. Hence, what is required is management rather than mitigation. The present bane could be transformed into bane provided Government becomes pro-active about it permanently. Bane is the loss of life and livelihood in thousands of crores every year. Permanent embankments and reservoir with futuristic vision could be constructed to channelize the rainfall. Existing embankments need to be strengthened by filling-up the gaps. Proper and timely repair should be taken with adequate measures for management throughout the year. Massive-scale dredging of rivers could also be a step towards managing flood.
Flood is a boon; it may contribute to recharging of the fast depleting groundwater in most areas and also help to improve the quality of groundwater. It will also recharge the surface water bodies like ponds and ahar-pynes (traditional floodwater harvesting system in South Bihar); it may lead to bumper Kharif crops in Bihar, especially paddy. Rice bowls of Bihar like Kaimur and Rohtas stands to gain from this year’s timely and more than adequate rainfall. Districts like Darbhanga stands to gain as it was facing drought-like situation last year, with dried wells owing to incessant pumping for irrigation.
For Nepal, it is the flood and flash floods: COVID adds to the constant problems, including inadequate response from the Government
In the news
Nepal Floods 2020 was a series of flash floods affecting widespread areas of the country. Monsoon rains have resulted in flooding and landslides across the country, especially in the Terai and the hilly regions. The flood situation is currently worsening in those areas where roads are cut off, leaving hundreds of thousands of people stranded. Many regions in Nepal’s south are impacted, with highways collapsing in many parts, including the main lifeline highway.
According to the natural calamity statistics recorded by Nepal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority, as of 24 July, at least 132 people had lost their lives whereas 53 were missing, and 128 were reported to be injured. A thousand families have been directly affected since the monsoon season started in Nepal. Rapid assessments have identified shelter, food, and protection as key immediate needs.
Access remains the biggest challenge as many of the remote areas affected by landslides and floods have no adequate road access. The Government is yet to ascertain the loss of properties in the incidents. This calculation is expected to increase further as calamity incidents have increased this year in comparison to previous year records.
Issues at large
First, the constant problem and changes in rainfall pattern. Floods and landslides are most frequent in Nepal yet extremely devastating disasters. Every year, monsoon floods batter the southern parts of the country whereas the hilly districts are affected by landslides. Most of these water-induced disasters occur during the monsoon season that receives 80 per cent of the total annual rainfall of the country. Both natural and anthropogenic activities are equally responsible for the frequent floods and landslides in Nepal. Changes in the regular rainfall pattern, which has become severe and erratic in recent years, also give rise to extreme weather events like floods and landslides. With the rising population, man-made activities have increased, meaning more land encroachment and more deforestation in the Chure and Terai ranges, causing floods in the southern plains. Whereas, deforestation, unplanned settlements along slopes, haphazard road construction, and unsuitable use of land for farming and human settlements lead to landslides in the hills.
Second, the COVID-19 pandemic poses yet additional challenge. The pandemic creates further challenges to disaster response and recovery efforts as measures such as physical distancing need to be observed to minimize the risk of infections among the affected people, especially those in emergency shelters. Another key issue is the depletion of PPE supplies, in particular masks, and the need to ensure minimum availability of protective equipment for the rescue team and the frontline workers.
Third, inadequate Government’s response: focus on the aftermath rather than on prevention. The response from the Government to avoid or minimize the impacts of water-induced disasters has been focused on the aftermath rather than prevention. Government agencies and their efforts are focusing on rescuing and rehabilitating victims while the root cause of frequent flood and landslide incidents remains unaddressed. The process of rescue and rehabilitation also remains highly ineffective and sluggish as there are incidents of affected families staying without proper support, food, and shelter for a long time. In this regard, the Government’s efforts to reduce disaster risk have been ineffective.
For India and Nepal, there is a never-ending blame game and politics of flood. The annual floods of Nepal and India not only disrupt lives in both countries but also have a political facet. When it comes to water resources, relations between India and Nepal have never been easy. Almost every monsoon, governments and residents on both sides across the border blame each other for causing floods and for their woes. Over 6,000 rivers and rivulets flow from Nepal to northern India, contributing about 70% of the Ganges river flow during the dry season. So, when these rivers overflow, floodwaters devastate the plains of Nepal and India. Despite the governments on both sides being well aware of the potential destruction of the annual flood, there has not been strong willpower and political desire to solve this issue with a sustainable approach. This issue requires a geographical approach rather than petty political lenses to resolve routine problems.
In Bangladesh, it is another severe floods, but little lessons learnt to brace for future climate impacts
In the news
Since late June the monsoon has led to severe floods in Bangladesh severely affecting almost 16 districts with visible impacts ranging from human displacement, food crisis, wastage of crops/private property, and acute sanitation situations. The floods have coincided with an already existing dire circumstance created by the coronavirus pandemic. About 3.3 million people are affected, leaving almost 7,32,000 people waterlogged, 93 deaths, of which 41 children have been reported to have died from drowning. The forceful displacement has led to the crowding and cramming of the rehabilitation facilitation, raising the risk of the coronavirus spread.
Issues at large
First, the floods are not a new phenomenon for Bangladesh. The country, since 1971, has had a troubled history of floods. Years ranging from 1987, 1988, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2015 to 2017 floods have impacted the livelihood of many in Bangladesh. However, in all previous instances, civil society has always come forward to aid the victims and mitigate the flood situations by working alongside the Government. But, due to the current issues of less urban unemployment, the urban to rural monetary transactions have been deeply affected, thereby limiting the flow of the essentials to the affected rural citizens.
Second, deteriorating environment, natural disasters, and improper planning are reasons for persisting flooding. The reasons for the flooding to persist are due to natural disasters that led to coastal flooding. Further, the melting of snow from the Himalayas along with heavy monsoon, severe deforestation in areas, and improper urban planning have also been contributing factors. Deforestation creates a problematic situation for the farmers due to soil erosion and along with-it unplanned urbanization causes massive waterlogging in cities like the capital, Dhaka. In the cities, the civil administration has failed to initiate steps to check water logging caused by improper drainage systems.
First, the Government in Bangladesh has been warned several times by agencies that more than one-third of the country’s boundary will be underwater in upcoming days due to climate change. However, there seems to be a sluggish administrative response to address these issues. With areas namely Nilphamari, Kurigram, Bogura, Mymensingh, Sunamganj, and Faridpur under regular distress due to flooding, very little has been done so far.
Second, the Government needs to start planning well in advance for the rehabilitation of families after the floods. With victims having not lost property and livestock, many have lost family members and are still at risk to do so. Thus adequate measures must be taken to cater to the need of these people, especially in the rural areas. Further, the Government needs to address the problem of unplanned development in urban areas to help prevent excessive flooding in the future.
In Pakistan, the latest abduction of a journalist, reveals a pattern of intimidation against the media
In the news
On 21 July Matiullah Jan, a senior journalist was abducted in broad daylight, in front of an educational institution in Islamabad, by a group of men who are suspected to be wearing police uniforms (and others in plainclothes). The abduction was captured by the school’s CCTV camera which later went viral on social media.
Political parties, lawyers, journalists, human rights organizations and many diplomats expressed their concerns and opposition members took to Twitter to express their outrage against Jan’s abduction.
Matiullah’s brother approached the Islamabad High Court and filed habeas corpus petition and lodged an FIR against the unidentified persons under Section 365 of the Pakistan Penal Code.
The journalist was in the limelight with his ‘contemptuous’ tweets regarding Justice Isa’s case decision. He was picked up a day before his appearance in Supreme Court and was released after 12 hours. On the related judgment, the Supreme Court had granted two weeks to Matiullah Jan to engage with his counsel and submit his reply regarding his tweets.
Issues at large
First, the threat to journalists. This is not the first time a Pakistan journalist has been intimidated or harassed. Hamid Mir got shot in 2014; Ahmed Noorani attacked in 2017; Taha Siddiqui was beaten by 10-12 armed men in 2018; Gul Bukhari abducted in 2019. The abduction of a journalist in Pakistan is not a new phenomenon. Further, many news channels have also been banned with many columns being terminated. This has become a trend in Pakistan.
Second, the threat to freedom of life and speech. In the last six years, 33 journalists have been murdered and eight killings between November 2018 and November 2019. As of now, those who have been killed have not received justice.
Third, increasing intervention of the State. The Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court, stated, “The way a journalist was picked up in broad daylight, have all institutions been destroyed?… How did anyone, wearing a police uniform, dare to abduct a person?”. The abduction had raised many questions over the security concerns among the legal, fraternity, political parties in diplomatic circles. The court also slammed the police for the kidnapping saying, the entire State was responsible for the incident
Fourth, the rise of international attention. Soon after the abduction Canada’s High Commissioner to Pakistan Wendy Gilmour tweeted, “Very worrying development: the role of the media in a democracy is crucial and must be protected. I trust that @Matiullahjan919 will be soon safely reunited with his family”. German Ambassador to Pakistan Bernhard Schlagheck tweeted, “Concerned to hear the news about the disappearance of @Matiullahjan919 today. Developments underline once again how dangerous the situation of journalists in #Pakistan is. Journalists’ safety is key for media freedom”.
There is a growing intolerance against the media in Pakistan. Actors – State or otherwise, have become unfriendly and intolerant to outspoken critics.
However, on the positive side, social media has become more powerful in recent years in Pakistan. Many journalists have started adopting different platforms to come forward in expressing their views.
In J&K, the police highlight neutralization of militants, while the political leaders underline the Article 370
In the news
On 26 July, the Inspector General of Police, Kashmir announced the neutralization of all militants from Srinagar. The Hindu quoted him: “Five encounters took place in the city this year. Of 10 terrorists killed in these gunfights, four were from Srinagar. Now, no resident of Srinagar district is in any terrorist rank.” According to the Hindu, “Over 137 militants have been killed in anti-militancy operations in Jammu and Kashmir so far this year, mostly in south Kashmir’s Shopian, Kulgam and Awantipora.”
On 28 July 2020, in an interview to the Hindu, Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of the J&K State, underlining that the removal of Article 370 has left no space for mainstream leaders, also said: “Just because you cannot see protests don’t confuse it to mean there is no anger and a sense of hurt that prevails here over what happened on 5 August. Don’t punish and demean Kashmiris further.”
Another former Chief Minister – Mehbooba Mufti, has been under detention. Her party – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), while observing its foundation day on 28 July, in a statement said: “5 August marks a black day in the constitutional history of J&K, when the solemn commitments made by the Parliament and the Constitution were annulled for a majoritarian goal of bulldozing the country into one saffron colour. We reiterate to fight for the restoration of honour and dignity of people of J&K.”
Issues at large
First, the big difference between the political leadership and security approaches. Across South Asia, the State pursues a security approach to a political issue and considers the absence of violence and the neutralization of militants would lead to the return of peace. In J&K, the security forces have been tasked by the State to ensure that there is no violence in the streets; the former is pursuing it. Recently, the Director-General of Police also announced the high number of militants who got killed during the recent period.
Second, the continuation of militant activities and encounters between them and the State forces in Kashmir Valley. During the last few months, despite the encounters and the neutralization of militants, violence led by the militants has been continuing.
Third, the absence of politics. Omar Abdullah has been released recently; the PDP leaders, including Mehbooba Mufti, are still under detention. Without political leaders, there cannot be any politics, which is essential for the democratic process. The politics and the democratic process is important to address the “anger and a sense of hurt” that Omar Abdullah talked about in his interview.
The State has to pursue a strong measure to address militancy and violence. It also has to ensure that there is also a strong political process, led by the political parties – national and more importantly, the regional parties.
In J&K, parties like the National Conference and the PDP, and leaders like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have a role. The State should encourage that role and not undermine it.
On Afghanistan, the latest UNAMA report, highlights on continuing violence
In the news
On 27 July UNAMA released a new report documenting 3458 civilian casualties with 1282 killed and 2176 injured in the first half of the year. The report highlights no reduction in civilian casualties caused by the Taliban and Afghan national security forces and the country is noted as the deadliest in the world.
Provinces like Balk and Kabul was the most affected with 344 civilian casualties and 338 respectively, followed by Nangahar with 281, and Faryab and Kunduz with 233 and 205 civilians’ casualties. UNAMA has shown concern over the women and children casualties which comprised 40 per cent of the civilian casualties. It also encourages the Government to pass the law on the protection of child rights.
Though the civilian casualties have decreased by 13 per cent compared to last year, the report states this was due to a drop in civilian casualties attributed to the international military forces. UNAMA also suggested, to bring an end to the violence and strive for a negotiated political settlement.
Issues at large
First, the continuing violence. Though the Taliban and Afghanistan government agreed upon ceasefire twice since February for brief intervals, violence has continued in the country. The anti-government forces led to 58 per cent civilian casualties whereas pro-government forces were responsible for 28 per cent of all civilian casualties. Further, differences over prisoner swap have delayed intra-afghan talks
Second, the pandemic. According to the UNAMA report, there have been 36 incidents affecting the healthcare workforce in 27 direct and nine indirect attacks. The conflicts have resulted in physical, emotional, and psychological victimization of families. These increasing attacks have severely comprised the right to the attainable standard of physical and mental health in the country. Attacks on healthcare workers and facilities, during the pandemic, has further weakened the health care system. It has also led to a decrease in the recovery rate of victims.
Third, the recruitment of children to carry out attacks. As per the report, in the first half of 2020, 23 children were recruited and trained by the Taliban to carry out attacks against the Afghan national security forces, including the suicide attacks. Moreover, closure of schools, institutions and economic hardships, due to the pandemic, have forced the children to earn, thus making them more susceptible to recruitment.
First, violence continues in different parts of Afghanistan even after the US-Taliban deal. The upcoming intra-afghan talks may be the only hope for Afghanistan, for reducing violence in the country.
Second, the Taliban may be using prolonged violence to intimidate the people and Government to get an upper hand in the intra-afghan talks.
Also in the news…
Peace and Conflict around the World
Flood in China: Worst in decades
Extensive flooding along the Yangtze River and other major rivers have displaced more than two million people and has affected millions more. On 26 July, torrential rain triggered the third flood point of the Yangtze river, putting the Three Gorges Dam under severe pressure. According to the China Meteorological Administration, the country has witnessed Intense rain and severe flooding since early June however, this year has experienced a 20 per cent increase in heavy rainfall since 1961. The Ministry of Emergency Management announced that heavy rains have hit 27 of the 31 provinces in the country, impacting more than 37 million people and leaving 141 dead or missing, further economic losses have been estimated at 86 billion yuan.
Protests in Poland and Turkey: Increasing violence against women spark protests
Protests broke out in Poland after the minister of Labour and Social Policy announced that the country was preparing to leave the 2011 Istanbul Convention, known as the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. Poland has faced criticism in the past over the State of women’s rights in the country. It even courted ire when it made plans to make the term domestic violence apply only when spouses are beaten more than once. But being a signatory to the Istanbul convention doesn’t ensure less violence against women. As could be seen in Turkey where similar protests by women have started after the brutal murder of a Turkish woman. On 27 July, several groups protested across cities, against the rising violence against women in Turkey. Violence against women has doubled with at least 474 women murdered in 2019 by current or former partners, family members, or unrelated males who wanted a relationship with them, reported a rights group ‘We Will Stop Femicides Platform.
Protest in Thailand: Youth returns to the streets
Several youth-led demonstrations have sprung up across Thailand in the last week, as young people across the country defied threats from the military-backed Government calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Further, they called for the dissolution of parliament, for the constitution to be rewritten, and for authorities to stop intimidating activists. The demonstrations first began on 18 July, when around 3000 young people who were led by the student coalition group Free Youth assembled at Bangkok’s historic Democracy Monument, the biggest since the outbreak of the pandemic. Since then smaller protests broke out in cities and towns across the country. These demonstrations come after years of political upheaval marked by a military coup in 2014, coupled with failed promises to restore democracy.
Protests in Israel: Nationwide anti-Netanyahu protests surges
The protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel have been on for weeks, with thousands of protestors taking to the streets and gathering outside the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem and with hundreds gathered in a seaside park in Tel Aviv, demanding his resignation. Netanyahu addressed the surging protests, warning demonstrators: “Do not drag the country into anarchy, violence, vandalism.” However, demonstrations have continued. The protests in Israel are said to have started because of the economic impact of COVID-19 which has hit small business owners and the self-employed the hardest, who complain that the government support schemes which were promised to them have not benefited them. These demonstrations are evolving as among the biggest challenges to Netanyahu’s rule since demonstrations over the cost of living in 2011 drew hundreds of thousands to the streets.
Ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine: Full, comprehensive ceasefire begins
The Ukrainian troops and the Russia-backed separatists have begun a full and comprehensive ceasefire thereby initiating an attempt to end the six years of conflict and hostilities in the country’s eastern province. The ceasefire came into force from midnight 27 July and the truce was agreed last week by negotiators from Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
About the authors
Alok Gupta is an Associate Professor at the Central University of Jharkhand. Mahesh Bhatta is a Research Officer at the Centre for South Asian Studies (CSAS), a Kathmandu based think-tank. Adnan Aziz Chowdhury is a criminology student from the University of Dhaka. D. Suba Chandran is a Professor and the Dean of School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Sukanya Bali and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Project Associate and Research Assistant at NIAS