Early in the morning of December 26, 2004, in a bright sunny day, children were frolicking in the sand while some older children and adults were either sunbathing or swimming in a calm sea in the beach resorts of Thailand. Then without warning, the sea rose to as much as 100 feet high and lashed out on the beach resorts and bay areas not only in Thailand but also in neighboring countries in the margins of the Indian Ocean. At the wake of the devastating tsunami, hundreds and thousands of lives were lost and billions worth of properties vanished in the blink of an eye. If there is anything positive that came out after this tragedy of massive proportions, it was the outpouring of aid and comfort from countries around the world who were equally shocked by the event. And second, it became a grim reminder to the world that preparedness in times of disasters caused by natural events should be one of the major development priorities in countries all over the world.
A few weeks after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, world leaders convened in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan in order to create a framework for action. The output of the meeting gave rise to the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters document (2005). This document could never have been more timely in a time where disasters are continuously claiming lives, destroying properties and hampering development in developing countries. Last year alone, according to the United Nation’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction- UN/ISDR (2008), Cyclone Sidr that hit Bangladesh in November, claimed 4,234 lives and topped the number of deaths caused by natural disasters. Floods in Bangladesh, India, Korean Democratic People’s Republic, China, Pakistan and India all claimed a total of 3,803 lives.
The same document revealed that Macedonia FRY had 49,057 per 100,000 population affected and killed by natural disasters last year. Macedonia was followed by Swaziland with 36,052/100,000 population affected or killed. Third country with a high number of people affected or killed per 100,000 population was Lesotho (23,657), fourth was Zimbabwe (15,784), fifth was Bangladesh (14,456), Zambia came in sixth with 12,764 followed by Dominica Republic with 11,177. China placed eight with 9,049, Belize with 6,952 and last was Djibouti with 5,132.
As exemplified in the figures above provided by the UN/ISDR, most of the countries heavily affected by natural disasters are those from developing regions in the world. While richer countries do suffer from calamities (example of which is the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in the United States) too, the need to address the effects and implications of a disaster has become very prominent largely in developing countries and to some extent in developed countries. Disasters can happen anywhere and its cost to countries and to the people could never be undermined. According the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005):
Disaster loss is on the rise with grave consequences for the survival, dignity and livelihood of individuals, particularly the poor, and hard-won development gains. Disaster risk is increasingly of global concern and its impact and actions in one region can have an impact on risks in another, and vice versa. This, compounded by increasing vulnerabilities related to changing demographic, technological and socio-economic conditions, unplanned urbanization, development within high-risk zones, under-development, environmental degradation, climate variability, climate change, geological hazards, competition for scarce resources, and the impact of epidemics such as HIV/AIDS, points to a future where disasters could increasingly threaten the world’s economy, and its population and the sustainable development of developing countries…
The framework stresses that nations in the world have acknowledged the importance of responding to disasters in a timely and orderly manner and in reducing disaster risk. Currently, there is a movement to integrate disaster risk management into policies and development plans of nations. This paper will explore ways to increase international profile on disaster risk reduction, integrate disaster risk reduction in development and strengthen local and national capacities on disaster risk reduction.
Increasing International Profile on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)
There are a number of international organisations whose primary aim is to disseminate information on disaster risk reduction, thereby helping countries practice DRR. The World Institute for Disaster Risk Management has its DRM (Disaster Risk Management) program as an example. The World Bank (WB) also has its program relating to DRR along with the United Nation’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR). World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledged the importance too of DRR and has its own program in mitigating disaster risk. In Germany, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH is a corporation owned by the government that operates worldwide. Its aim is to raise the standard of living of citizens in partner countries while maintaining and preserving the natural resources of the country. It does so by developing measures that will manage and prevent crises and disasters. Regional organisations, too, recognise the importance of DRR. For example, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (2008) on July 26, 2005, signed an agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response.
These organisations and other relevant organisations posed in increasing international profile on disaster risk reduction have the capacity to transfer knowledge and technologies in order to help developing countries cope up with disasters as well as increase their own capacities in disaster risk reduction. For example, the DRM (Disaster Risk Management) program of the World Institute for Disaster Risk Management (2008) is developing “regional relations and strategies for disaster prevention in a larger context.” To do this, the institute will support research geared towards mitigation of disaster risk and train local institutions in developing countries that experience periodic natural or man-made disasters on how to manage or reduce disaster risk.
As emphasised by the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005) document, multilateral frameworks and declarations are now placing importance on encouraging local communities, nations, regions and the world to reduce disaster risk. As an example of this effort, the World Bank Institute has initiated a ‘Global Distance Learning Program on Natural Disaster Risk Management (NDRM). Together with Earthquakes and Megacities Initiative (EMI) (2007), which is an international, scientific non-profit organisation based in the Philippines, WBI and the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) of the Philippines implemented the on-line course through the office of Civil Defense (OCD). The on-line course was customized in the Philippines context and was administered to local government officials and other stakeholders whose works were in-line with natural disaster risk management. The program was successful on its first year of implementation.
The cited example is evidence that disaster risk reduction is an international concerted effort. To increase international profile on DRR, experiences and best practices from both developing and developed countries in the realm of reducing disaster risk are to be documented and shared internationally. Currently, there are a number of organisations who are already documenting these best practices (for example, the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction is publishing books on best practices and lessons learned on disaster risk reduction (2008)). Aside from sharing best practices, it would also be beneficial for developed countries to assist the local capacities of developing nations in disaster risk management.
Integration of Disaster Risk Reduction in Development
The world, in the past decade, has seen an avalanche of natural and man-made disasters. Lives have been lost and billions and billions of properties lost as a result of this disaster. We have seen how more developed countries rose to their feet after a catastrophic event and saw developing nations grappling after a typhoon, an earthquake or a tsunami. In order for development to be sustainable in developing countries, there is a need to integrate disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction. Hard-earned development should not be entirely hampered in countries that are struggling financially when disaster strikes. Especially in recent times where climate change has spurred a wave of severe and stronger typhoons, storms, flooding and the introduction of water-related and vector-borne diseases in tropical countries – development should not suffer because of these changes.
However, as much as developing nations want to protect its people against disasters and prevent untold destruction, protection from calamities and earthquakes may not be entirely realised. As an example – as population grows, areas that are originally prone to flooding during rainy seasons may experience increased population density; the same may hold true in areas that are susceptible to earthquakes and hurricanes. As population grows in these areas, there is a growing probability that in case flooding, earthquakes and hurricanes do occur- these might translate to millions of casualties (Noji and Lee, 2005). The contention then is how nations can integrate disaster risk reduction in their development plan in order to ensure that development is sustainable; or, if a natural disaster is inevitable, how can a vulnerable population prepare itself against the consequence of a disaster?
Natural disasters have a direct effect on the development of a nation. First, it interrupts and hampers development. Second, when the development of a nation is low, the likelihood that a disaster will strike again increases. Many countries now recognise the need to prevent disaster in order to ensure continued development. The initiative is that prevention will result to reduced disasters in the future and, as a result, development will be sustained. Disaster risk can be lowered by controlling hazards and lessening vulnerability. While this idea is not a novelty, mainstreaming this proposal poses a big challenge in the development sectors (Garatwa and Bollinm, 2002).
The books Words Into Action: A Guide for Implementing the Hyogo Framework published by UN/ISDR and WB (2007) and Disaster Risk Management: Working Concept published by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH (2002) are excellent guides on how to integrate risk reduction in development. Together with the ideas expounded in these books and resources listed in the reference sections, the following are useful in integrating disaster risk reduction in development:
To ensure that a disaster can be averted or its risk reduced, environment and natural resources should be well-managed.
Much of the mudslide, flashfloods, severe flooding after a typhoon is usually due to the denudation of forested lands in developing countries. The inability to successfully put in place a mechanism to reforest bare mountains poses a major problem in some developing countries in the world. In order to reduce the risk of flashfloods and mudslides, denuded mountains and plains need to be reforested. In addition, stakeholders in the environment can convene with the purpose of creating a system to protect indigenous groups, women, children and men from environment health hazards and environmental health risks that may lead to disasters.
Increase the resilience of the poor against calamities.
Often, poor communities are more susceptible to disasters and when one strikes, their ability to recover is minimal. Governments and non-government organisations should focus on poverty alleviation by considering programs that will teach the poor skills to sustain a livelihood that will help them get out of poverty. Studies have shown that there is a link between poverty reduction and disaster risk reduction (Global Network of NGOs for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2008). For example, in Bolivia, the people in a selected community were taught how to prepare during emergencies using a risk management approach. At the end of the study, the researchers found out that poverty was reduced because the impact of a disaster on the economic, social and natural aspect of the community was lessened (Care International in Bolivia, 2008).
Another best practice is done in Indonesia (Community Association for Disaster Management, 2008) wherein the Community Association for Disaster Management contemplated on stopping the poverty cycle in a local village by providing clean water. The organisation contracted the local villagers to participate in the development and maintenance of water wells which in turn became an entry point to risk reduction and poverty alleviation. The villagers’ fatalistic belief on the nature of disasters was removed. The researchers discovered that this belief was linked to unclean water. After involving themselves with the project, the villagers began addressing their vulnerability and took actions in improving their economic conditions.
Incorporate safety measures in buildings and urban planning.
There should be strict zoning during urban planning ensuring that development is controlled. Building codes should be strictly adhered to. If there is proper land use especially in mega cities and densely populated areas, the disaster risk will be greatly reduced.
Practice disaster risk reduction in key production and service sectors.
According to UN/ISDR (2007), key production and service sectors refer to agriculture, fisheries, mining, forestry, tourism, transportation, water supply, energy, food processing, construction, manufacturing, commerce, finance, health and sanitation. While the mentioned sectors use technology and resources from the natural world, there is a need to reduce environmental hazards or risks or negative impacts to their surroundings and other sectors in society. This can be done through practicing guidelines in their respective fields that will avert or reduce the risk of a disaster.
Adapt disaster risk reduction into a policy and engender political commitment.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, 2008) made a review of 19 countries that have developed and adopted DRM policies and plans over the past 10-15 years. They found out that true adoption of disaster risk reduction policy is far from favourable. Often, governments need to be convinced first of the practicality and benefits of disaster risk reduction before adapting it into a policy. Political commitment to adapt this strategy lies on politicians who are dynamic or converted to the principles of disaster risk reduction. These kinds of politicians, however, need to be influential in order to ensure that the strategy is put into place and followed by his constituents.
Promote multisectoral involvement in disaster risk reduction.
Successful disaster risk management and reduction entail the involvement of inter-agencies in the government, non-government organisations, schools and other stakeholders. Committed individuals and an educated populace, as posited by UNDP (2008), are integral in the success of disaster risk reduction and promotion of development and progress at the same time.
Strengthening Local and National Capacities on Disaster Risk Reduction
At the local level, capacities on disaster risk reduction can be strengthened through the following:
Incorporation of indigenous practices with new technologies in DRR.
Development studies have shown that when indigenous practices are recognised, the success rate of DRR is high. In Dagupan City, Philippines, a bamboo instrument called kanungkong is used together with modern scientific knowledge and instrument in warning residents of impending floods. Kanungkong was originally used to call community members to village meetings and children home. Today, it is used as communication relay system in the villages. The number of strikes of the kanungkong and the intervals of the strikes represent different warning codes understandable by the residents in the city (Victoria, 2008).
Another example is seen in the Ninh Thuan province of Vietnam. This coastal area proves to be the driest area in Vietnam, receiving only 600 mm to 800 mm of rainfall annually. Because weather forecasting is limited in some areas, residents resort to indigenous knowledge on weather forecasting for crop cultivation. Residents observe the moon and dragonflies in order to predict weather changes. These observations have very useful application in their agricultural activities (Huv and Shaw, 2008).
Inclusion of DRR in the education system of the community.
In 2006-2007, a world campaign with the theme “Disaster Risk Reduction Begins at School” has been underway (UN/ISDR and UNESCO, 2007). Measuring the progress of the campaign, initiatives from different schools in different countries were documented. The campaign proved to be successful in schools who participated in the campaign. In Armenia, a densely populated and earthquake prone country, the campaign helped teachers, principals and school students become seismic risk reduction trainers. The project also helped paved the way for a school hazard mapping to be conducted along with assessment of damage and loss during earthquakes (Armenian National Survey for Seismic Protection and Armenia and Asian Disaster Reduction Center, 2007).
Another best practice is found in Mozambique, a country that has experienced flooding, cyclones, landslides, droughts, epidemics and, in February of 2006, a massive earthquake. Recognising the impact of these disasters on the people’s lives, the Mozambican government, along with international non-government organisations initiated a DRR program in the country. The Red Cross Society of the country, understanding the need to disseminate DRR to the school systems, began a program of educating school teachers on DRR. The training resulted in the creation of a school handbook on tsunamis and DRR and the mainstreaming of DRR into the school curricula (Red Cross Society, Mozambique, 2007).
In West Africa, Sierra Leone, a country that experienced protracted civil war in the past is also subjected to both man-made and natural disasters. As the flagship project of the Disaster Management Department of the Office of National Security, schools and public and private institutions were trained in order to integrate DRR into the school curricula of the nation. To date, the project has benefited around 2,500 students, academic and non-academic personnel (Disaster Management Department of the Office of National Security, 2008).
These projects, focused on the educational system of communities, are an effective way to implement DRR in communities. As a result, not only adults but also children now serve as agents of disaster risk reduction.
Involving Key Sectors and Training them for DRR
Reduction of disaster risk can be successful by involving key stakeholders such as policymakers, development practitioners, and disaster managers in DRR and by equipping them with technical skills and knowledge on the subject. Steps on how to involve the key sectors would begin by identifying the needs of certain locality on DRR; second, involve women’s and community groups that could benefit from a DRR training; invest in local training programs and make it a regular endeavor and last, seek feedbacks on how to better the training manuals and sessions.
In Nepal, summer training sessions on safe construction were given to 100 engineering students. This program supplemented their regular engineering curriculum and in return, these students performed building inventories and vulnerability analyses. The trainings were conducted by the Kathmandu Valley Earthquake Risk Management Project in partnership with Nepal’s National Society for Earthquake Technology (Bothara and Guragain, as cited by UN/ISDR & WB, 2007).
Meanwhile, in India, a federation of masons and artisans (the Mason Association) in collaboration with the country’s Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS) offer training to masons in the informal sector. The program imparts technical knowledge to its participants on good construction practices and disaster risk reduction techniques (SEEDS, as cited by UN/ISDR, 2007).
Disaster risk reduction at a national level could be practiced by pursuing the following suggestions modified from the UN/ISDR manual on how to implement the Hyogo Framework of Action (2007):
Prioritizing disaster risk reduction
As mentioned previously in the local level, just as stakeholders involved in DRR in the community should be tapped in order to create a community system on DRR, the same principle can be used in the national level. Stakeholders such as policy makers, program implementers, disaster managers and others involved in DRR work can convene in order to create a national system on DRR. When possible a multi-disciplinary team can be formed to address issues on DRR.
Allocation of Resources on DRR at the National Level
It is advisable that the National government should invest on DRR by allocating resources (both money and training) to appropriate government and non-government organisations working on reducing disaster risk in the nation. If possible, an insurance scheme can be put into place to ensure that vulnerable populations will have insurance coverage in case a disaster strikes. In addition, both men and women should have equal access to these allocations provided by the government.
Establishment of a nation-wide disaster risk assessment
In order for decision makers in the national and local government gain a precise picture of the country’s disaster risks, a nation-wide disaster risk assessment has to be conducted by researchers and technical experts. Participatory research could be the best method in collecting data on the country’s disaster risks. In this way, early warning systems, manuals and trainings on disaster prevention and responses to crisis could be institutionalised and be more effective since the target population are involved during the assessment.
In the last 20 years, disasters have affected and displaced millions and millions of people. These disasters, whether natural or man-made, have a direct effect on the development process of a country. As evidenced by numerous books and articles, mostly, it is the developing nations of the world who suffer the most from nature’s fury or from the consequences of man’s negligence to nature. With the acknowledgement of the fact that development is hampered because of catastrophic events, the idea of integrating DRR in vulnerable countries has been widely accepted and implemented in many countries. While the institutionalisation of DRR is a slow process, countries who did adopt strategies on DRR have seen considerable development, reduction of poverty and increase in the quality of life of its citizens.