Why We Care

Posted by M ws On Thursday, August 11, 2011 0 comments
The following is a guest post written by a friend KJ Lee, Secretary-General of iBurst Association with headquarters in Malaysia. I requested him to write on this topic following a recent discussion we had on disaster risk reduction in the Asia-Pacific region. Thanks, KJ, for sharing this with us.

WHY WE CARE written by KJ Lee

Is economic growth the only priority?

Many governments of developing countries believe that continuous economic growth is the right policy in achieving goals of socio-economic development. This approach may not necessarily lead to an equitable society or reduce poverty. Development gains may be destroyed in any major disaster especially when integration of principles of disaster risk reduction is absent.

Despite robust economic growth from 1980 to 2009, the Asia- Pacific region is marred by global disasters (45 per cent), economic losses (42 per cent) and disaster-related death (60 per cent). In fact, 86 per cent of the total population of Asia-Pacific was affected by disasters.

Undeniably, we are living in a very vulnerable region. For the past decade, we see the increasing frequency and force of disasters in Asia-Pacific, ranging from earthquakes to floods, cyclones to tsunamis. Natural hazard may not necessarily disastrous. The severity of any hazard-turned-disaster depends on levels of risk, exposure, vulnerability, capacities of people, ability of structures and economies to withstand and recover(The Asia Pacific Disaster Report, 2010).It is a compelling truth that most governments in the region only eye economic growth and treat disaster risk considerations as part of the response mechanisms in the event of a disaster.

Are we prepared for disaster ?

There are evident benefits on how preparedness can make a difference to the impact of hazards. In short, the preparedness level and development priorities setting determine the impact of a disaster. There are evident benefits on how preparedness can make a difference to the impact of hazards.

Myanmar was struck by cyclone Nargis ( 300,000 deaths, 2008) and Bangladesh by cyclone Sidr (3,500 deaths, 2007). Of similar magnitude, both cyclones impacted the people living on extensive coastal tributary systems. The impact of disasters in both countries which are at similar property level is very different because Bangladesh is better prepared having invested in embankments protection, mango forests preservation, early warning systems (AUSAID, 2008) and disaster preparedness measures. (include emergency evacuation plan).

Why must a rational government advance principles of disaster risk reduction into its development policies? Aren’t efforts in reducing hard-core poverty, accelerating housing settlement and redressing socio-economic inequalities more urgent ? Actually, individuals and governments tend to discount the low-probability of future losses for a disaster that may not happen in the next ten years. As such, more should be invested in the disaster risk management programmes.

In reality, it is the poor and the vulnerable that are badly hit in the disaster. The disaster may push people into poverty and affect the ability of the poor to rise out of poverty. The vicious cycle demonstrates intimate relationship between disaster and poverty. Strong political will and efficient administration are needed to achieve disaster risk reduction objective.

Calls from the international institutions

In the series of international conferences held recently, the international society has called for “investing today for a safer tomorrow and increased investment in local action”. The newly released 2011 Global Assessment Report for Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR2011), emphasised revealing risk and redefining development. “Public investments in infrastructure, health and education are becoming more risk-sensitive. These strategies have the potential to reduce disaster risk and achieve the objective of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA)...”, said Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of United Nations in the foreword of the GAR2011.

The 4th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Incheon, October 2010, also saw the launching of the inaugural Asia Pacific Disaster Report. This report, a joint effort between United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and ISDR also stressed the importance in “protecting development gains through reducing disaster vulnerability and building resilience in Asia and the Pacific”.

Recommendations for DRR actions

Reducing vulnerability and building the resilience of national and community require effective and integrated strategies of many responsible stakeholders. Be pro-active, tackle the obstacles directly and explore a wide range of opportunities. Any effort in scaling up disaster risk reduction should not be deemed a trade-off to the existing development programmes. Recommendations for disaster risk reduction are as follows :

At the regional level

Disasters caused by natural hazards and climate change do not respect national boundaries. The response and recovery must also be at cross-national level or at sub-regional level. In this regard, cooperation among governments, international organizations, regional institutions and civil societies is significant to ‘building-back-better’- thus can improve the national institutional and legislative arrangement for effective disaster risk management and implementation. Through regional and sub-regional cooperation to integrate human interventions and end-to-end early warning systems, disaster preparedness and capacities for effective response at all levels can be strengthened.

The regional and sub-regional institutions can support the national initiative of DRR through sharing of information, technology, sound practices, lesson learned and the wealth of professionals of multi-disciplinary. International humanitarian aid agencies are always ready to render assistance when disaster strikes.

At the national level

National policy, institution and legislation should be established to ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation (HFA Priority Area 1). To ensure a coherent administration in development policy with DRR as integral components, relocate the national disaster management offices into ministries of planning and/or social development. Alternatively, appoint a DRR focal point within line agencies and local governments, and decentralize responsibilities and capabilities of disaster risk management at all levels.

At the community level

The community must build the capacity to anticipate and prepare for disaster. Most rural areas are vulnerable because lack of the communication infrastructure. Thus disaster communication capability and early warning system should be established in advance, or able to be restored swiftly in the event of disaster. Constant communication between local leaders, civil society and the disaster management officers should be enhanced through drill, pilot project, awareness campaign and training.

Political leaders must have a well integrated strategy to enhance cooperation at community level. The actions include :

  • promoting awareness and building capacity for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation at all levels.
  • integrating disaster risk reduction into public investment decisions to strengthen resilience of a country to disasters.
Why is it difficult to make disaster risk reduction a priority?

Many governments recognize the importance in identifying underlying risk drivers to safeguard the public infrastructure and its people. Nonetheless, the investment in DRR dwarfs all the public investment in building the infrastructure. Attempts to include risk and vulnerability reduction as a key aspect in development planning has yet to happen.

It is a stock-in-trade for governments to spend less on prevention and risk reduction and more on post-disaster response and recovery, especially when budget is tight. According to Asia Pacific Disaster Report, there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, investment in disaster risk reduction may not yield benefits for many years, which makes it difficult to justify scarce funds from other sectors such as rural health where benefits are more upfront and visible. Secondly, even with successful risk reduction measures, it can be difficult to prove that it was due to investments in prevention. The problem is further compounded by the fact that there are more funds on offer for response than for prevention.

Ironically, the humanitarian aid provided by international financial institutions for reconstruction and rehabilitation lack of risk-reduction considerations, sometimes, it may ‘build-back-vulnerabilities’ instead of ‘build-back-better’.


All responsible governments must empower people to reduce their vulnerabilities to hazards through programmes of disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness and vulnerability reduction. For successful implementation of disaster risk management programmes, widespread and sustained commitment of disaster management stakeholders as well as strong political will is needed.

-Written by KJ Lee-

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