CALL FOR PAPERS – Crossing Borders: Governing Environmental Disasters in a Global Urban Age in Asia and the Pacific

  • 2015•06•02     Singapore

    Disasters are not readily contained within neatly drawn territorial boundaries. Both in their immediate impacts and in their compounding cascades, a disaster such as a chemical spill in a river or dangerous air pollution originating from a major metropolitan region can quickly spread across national borders. People displaced by an environmental disaster who are offered insufficient assistance at home can also migrate in great numbers across borders, mostly within nation-states but increasingly internationally. Often, too, compound disasters emanate from a single disaster, such as nuclear power plant meltdown that flows over borders to interrupt global supply chains, or a pandemic like Avian Flu or Ebola that generates high social and economic impacts around the world. As even remote regions are incorporated into a globalizing urban matrix of anthropogenic transformations of nature, the melting of the Himalayan glaciers associated with global climate change irreversibly alters seasonal access to water. This in turn exaggerates droughts, flooding, landslides and other seemingly more localized disasters which impact on food production for urban populations transcending administrative partitions across Asia and the Pacific region.

    The purpose of this multidisciplinary conference is to examine the ways in which environmental disasters with compounding effects are being governed as they traverse sovereign territories in rapidly urbanizing societies in Asia and the Pacific. While cross-border disasters are becoming ever more frequent in our global age, the division of the world into nation-states has meant that environmental disruptions continue to be treated as domestic concerns. Yet when disasters do spill over territorial boundaries, governance structures and mechanisms must be improvised if disasters are to be mitigated. In many cases, borders heighten problems of cooperation and collaboration, even in such basic actions as information sharing. Further, local governments are rarely included in international cross-border disaster cooperative efforts, which tend to ignore local knowledge about how to generate resilience to disaster impacts.

    Yet cross-border agreements and intercity networks aimed at managing disasters collaboratively do exist, just as national and local governments reach beyond their own jurisdictions to provide assistance when disasters occur or when environmental migrant populations appear. Non-governmental organizations are also offering assistance across borders. As processes of decentralized governance to sub-national administrations continue to make headway in Asia and the Pacific, cities and towns, rather than nation-states, could emerge as new engines of policy innovation in building social resilience to future disasters. Transborder networks of cooperation around progressive approaches to environmental conservation, the politics of land ownership and social justice are bringing people into conversation across administrative divides and encouraging new voices in disaster governance activities. Such mobilities offer potential spaces of hope through which to build more inclusive and effective governance regimes across international borders.

    We invite submission of papers from beginning and established scholars, policymakers, planners and development practitioners to explore these issues in governing compound disasters across borders in urbanizing Asia and the Pacific region. We encourage applicants to consider empirical case studies and theories within comparative national contexts to draw lessons that can be learned from Asia and the Pacific for disaster governance regimes across national jurisdictions in other urbanizing world regions. Questions that will guide the conference proceedings to speak to related themes across disciplinary and geographical boundaries include:

    • What are the major kinds of disasters that are crossing borders in Asia and the Pacific today, and in what ways should they be conceptualized as problems of inclusive and collaborative governance, in contrast to tasks for expert-driven disaster management?
    • What kinds of innovations in disaster governance are appearing to provide redress for social and economic impacts of compound disaster reaching across national borders, and how well are they working?
    • How do governance structures and institutions respond to environmentally displaced people who move across borders? Do their innovations facilitate a return to home localities or provide secure living arrangements elsewhere? What are the long-term prospects for people who forcibly migrate due to environmental disasters?
    • How do shared experiences of cross-border disasters highlight or transform power relations among localities? Can collaborative networks across borders translate into more inclusive forms of governance in the preparation for, response to and recovery from environmental disasters?
    • Can we use the lens of compound cross-border disasters such as those affecting global supply chains to think about urban networks as part of a changing planetary ecology? How can insights gained from this perspective nurture linkages between knowledge and action in forging meaningful collaborative relations across borders? Can such collaborations also contribute to international agreements on reducing anthropogenic impacts on global climate change?

    Submission of Proposals

    Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract (250 words maximum) and a brief personal biography of 150 words for submission by 30 June 2015. Please send all proposals to Ms Tay Minghua at

    Successful applicants will be notified by 15 July 2015 and will be required to send in a completed draft paper (5,000 – 8,000 words) by 15 October 2015.

    Event Details

    Date: 05 Nov 2015 – 06 Nov 2015
    Venue: Asia Research Institute Seminar Room
    469A Tower Block, Level 10, Bukit Timah Road
    National University of Singapore @ BTC

    Organized by Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, in collaboration with Institute for Environment and Human Security, United Nations University (UNU-EHS), and Urban Knowledge Network Asia, International Institute of Asian Studies (UKNA-IIAS). Sponsored by Singapore Ministry of Education grant on ‘Governing Compound Disasters in Urbanizing Asia’

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