South Asia is the highest risk global region for civil unrest this year, with India, Pakistan and Bangladesh all deemed as ‘extreme’ risks, according to risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

“South Asia and, to a lesser extent, southeast Asia are potential powder kegs of unrest amid a perfect storm of food shortages, higher prices, sweeping job losses and plummeting remittances,” the group said in its latest quarterly civil unrest report. 

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“Companies and investors, already reeling from travel restrictions, lockdowns, a see-sawing stock market and oil price crash, face another headache that is unlikely to go away any time soon.”

The UK-based consultancy said it expected civil unrest in the region to ease by the second quarter of 2022 as the Covid-19 pandemic is brought under control. 

Protests on rise

Starvation and food insecurity has been on the rise in India and will “deepen over the coming months as the economy sheds jobs at a rapid rate”, according to Verisk Maplecroft. 

Protests are forecast to increase in the coming weeks as the fallout from the pandemic fuels existing grievances many groups have with the authorities. In December, thousands of people protested a new citizenship law that gives preference to non-Muslims. 

Pakistan’s food supply shortages, meanwhile, are set to increase because of the disruption caused by the coronavirus, compounding the effects of drought and a weak rupee. 

Although the Pakistani government introduced subsidies to reduce the cost of food in February, the global supply shortage is set to exacerbate protests again, the report said.

Pakistan’s ranking as 13th riskiest country in the index (out of 198 countries), is unlikely to improve during the rest of this year, Verisk Maplecroft said.

Bangladesh has faced widespread job layoffs in its vital garment sector – the country’s main export sector – due to falling global demand and supply chain disruption amid the coronavirus crisis. 

Although labour unrest is set to decrease as the manufacturing sector gradually recovers by the end of the year, Bangladesh remains the 10th riskiest country in the world, according to the consultancy.  Verisk Maplecroft expects severe civil unrest over the next six months due to rising food poverty levels amid the global pandemic.

“Companies and investors across the region will need to pay heed as unrest will continue to linger long after sources of more short-term disruption – such as lockdowns and travel restrictions – are lifted,” the report said.