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‘Live to Tell’: Some Reflections on the Occasion of the 2016 International Day for Disaster Reduction

The wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada in May 2016 consumed more than 2,400 structures and nearly 600,000 hectares of forest. Considered as Canada’s costliest disaster, it was a case showing the need to have proactive (and not reactive) disaster risk management measures in place –fire risk maps for ensuring safe evacuation in fire prone areas or designating the areas as unsafe for human habitation.
FROM: Saleemul Huq, Zenebe B. Uraguchi – 11. October 2016
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 Thinking about ‘systems’ means focusing on underlying causes of risks, hazards and vulnerabilities, and what solutions can reduce and manage them.

In 2009, the UN General Assembly decided to designate 13 October as the International Day for Disaster Reduction. This year’s focus is on ‘Live to Tell’ through reducing disaster mortality, the first of the seven targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The target is to substantially reduce global disaster mortality by 2030, aiming to lower average per 100,000 global mortality between 2020 – 2030 compared to 2005 – 2015.

We take the occasion and reflect on what the day means, the achievements so far and the challenges ahead. Building safer and more resilient communities requires improved or new ways of reducing and managing risks through tackling vulnerability and exposure. We all want to do this for long-term (sustainable) and large-scale impacts. And this necessitates: (a) identifying and managing underlying drivers of risks, and (b) taking stock of the impacts of (well-intentioned) development initiatives on disaster risks.

What makes 2016 significant?

The year 2016 is a major turning point for the global community of nations and people as we have to start implementing the three major global agreements that were achieved in 2015 with a fifteen year time horizon for completion. The first of these global agreements was achieved in March 2015 in Sendai, Japan on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), the second in New York, USA in September with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the third in December in Paris, France with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We now have to start implementing all these major agreements to reach the goals by 2030.

This presents an opportunity for the global community of countries and communities to work towards achieving these set of goals in an integrated manner. Hence, the goal of enhanced DRR under the Sendai Agreement needs to be integrated with the relevant SDGs and the adaptation track of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Understanding disaster risk better

Disaster risk has different dimensions of vulnerability, capacity, exposure of persons and assets, hazard characteristics and the environment. There have been improvements in the collection, analysis, management and use of relevant data and practical information on disaster risk reduction and management. Disaster risks are forward-looking (in a given period), dynamic (increase or decrease depending on capacity to reduce vulnerability), invisible (both high-impact and frequent, low-impact events), unevenly distributed around the globe (disasters hurt the poor and vulnerable the most), and emergent and complex.

Better understanding means analysis should identify the underlying causes (rather than symptoms) of risks. This concerns:

  • Understanding and effectively using – in addition to science-based methodologies and tools – traditional, indigenous and local knowledge and practices, as appropriate;
  • Identifying and coordinating with key stakeholders (public, private, civil society) at the national/local and global/regional levels, and their capacities and incentives to continually strive to leverage their actions; and
  • Understanding an even more complex and interconnected ‘next generation of disasters’ and the functions required to address them – from strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk to investing in disaster risk management for resilience and enhancing disaster preparedness to ‘Build Back Better’.

Managing risks, and not just disasters

Years of investment in development to address poverty, inequality, exclusion and vulnerability can be decimated by a single disaster event. It is also true that badly planned and implemented development initiatives (e.g. forest or wetland exploitation, poor settlement planning, or vulnerability-raising infrastructure projects) create and exacerbate conditions of hazard, exposure and vulnerability.

Disaster risk management combines different measures of prevention, mitigation and preparedness to reduce and manage disaster risks; it involves government, the private sector and civil society in the process. In fact, efficient disaster risk management (or risk-sensitive development) shows that efforts to decrease/limit disaster risks are investments not only in preventing future losses, but also in stimulating future growth.

What roles for development initiatives?

A meaningful role for development initiatives to contribute to the reduction and management of risks, among others, will have to grapple with the following opportunities and challenges:

A ‘rethinking’ of visions and strategies: the most likely and indeed justified response to disasters is saving lives and supporting short-term recovery efforts. The challenge often, however, is the lack of attention to disaster risks in a more systematic way with a medium to long-term perspective. In addition, a risk-informed and resilient post-2015 development agenda can only be achieved through partnering with a range of stakeholders including communities, local/national governments and the private sector.

Capacity: capacity-building is one of the key elements at all stages in a comprehensive disaster risk management. Training future and current leaders on disaster risk management and development therefore is critical through knowledge sharing and learning. This concerns individual/community skills and institutional capacity to deal with identified risks at the local and national levels.

Financing disaster risk management: while domestic resources are the largest and most important source of finance for development, it is not clear if these resources can be effectively mobilised for disaster risk management. Experiences from two decades of development cooperation in disaster risk reduction and management show that funding has considerably been inequitable: heavily concentrated in relatively few, mostly middle-income countries, and the poorest countries, those with the smallest annual revenue, have received less than 20% of total financing. This, in turn, calls for exploring and using efficiently local insurance schemes and (in-)formal emergency funds to help transfer and share specific risks, and building the ‘business case’ for disaster risk management for innovation and growth.

Additional sources

Senior Advisor Value Chain & Market Development

Dr. Saleemul Huq is the Director of the International Centre for Climate Change & Development (ICCCAD) since 2009. Dr. Huq is also a Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED). He was a lead author of the chapter on Adaptation and Sustainable Development in the third assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and was one of the coordinating lead authors of ‘Inter-relationships between adaptation and mitigation’ in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (2007).

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Family Chakma experiences true change
Thanks to their tree nursery, a family in Bangladesh has left poverty and deprivation behind. Surjaa Rani Chakma, the eldest daughter, is going to college – something her grandmother and parents would never have dreamed of for themselves.
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