Disaster Response – where are the elements of Disaster Risk Reduction ?

Having extended working experience in Disaster Response I see the humanitarian actors often moving very fast into response mechanisms – but neglecting the build up of Disaster Risk Reduction from the very first day. Is this necessary – as all tools are nowadays available to prevent further and /or new damage. Is it only a matter of funding – as many agencies claim ?

Let us look in the cycle of a disaster : A good example is the the 2005 South Asian earthquake, which caused around on October 5th in the morning within 1.5 minutes 77 000 casualties and made around 250 000 people homeless in an area big as Belgium. In consequence the international and national NGOs, the Red Cross and the UN system reacts and starts sending emergency aid to Pakistan. First donors are starting to pledge funds, some organizations, especially the relief orientated, as well as Red Cross and UN receive direct funds. Every agencies starts funding appeals, while the first teams arrived on the ground and try to identify needs and to find a coordination mechanism. After the first two weeks coordination practices are set up and each and everybody starts to work – help the victims. Within the first days the normal chaos of the first days changes in to more detailed informations and more specified activities of all participating agencies. (In detail the response can be read in the various evaluations). Various donors have pledged towards the South Asian Earthquake and given Millions of USD towards the Government of Pakistan and the various humanitarian stakeholders for immediate relief operations, to save lives of the survivors and to rehabilitate and reconstruct.

Unquestionable that the live threatening needs of shelter, food, water and medical treatment needed to be resolved from the very beginning. Transport and Access need to be organized, which we call the first phase – also called the Relief phase -. After the first 2 month (depending on the scale of the disaster) we enter into the Early Recovery Phase, which turns over the time into Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. But reviewing the various programs and interventions in Pakistan showed, that only in 2007 – 2 years after the disaster happened – the first DRR programs were discussed and some pocket interventions started.

While today most of the organizations are assessing the extent to which risk reduction can/has to be included in their respective country assistance plans – donors seem to be reluctant to invest / fund from the beginning (2005)  DRR components. Perhaps it is more important to demonstrate the achievement as no of blankets or shelter distributed, but is that really needed ?This is somehow contradictory towards the Hyogo Framework, which was adopted just a few month before the devastating Earthquake.

One could argue that the disaster occurred and live saving programs had first priority, which I would agree with; but what about the time after the immediate disaster – when the “relief” time (in this case the Government of Pakistan claimed in April 2006 the end of relief operations) was over and the “rehabilitation” phase started ?

One could argue that the newly developed Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (ERRA) agreed and implemented only “safe” constructions (means earthquake resistant buildings like schools and homes) to be subsidized / compensated; but this only targets a percentage of constructions in the affected areas and not the broad populations.

One could argue that the timely intensive set up a newly developed National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and its Provincial segments the Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMA) caused the delay – but there were so named Disaster Cells before in place.

One could argue that donors were not requested to do so – but this is obvious wrong, as beside the strong direct funding to the Government of Pakistan – DIPECHO for example did not fund any programs in Pakistan in 2007; and other donors requested while negotiating applications to concentrate on immediate results.

One could argue that DRR has not that big visibility then distributing blankets or constructing schools – but the results of trained areas show that populations can handle disasters with increased coping mechanisms

One could argue that organizations do not request from their field staff enough DRR components to be designed and implemented and HQ staff not involved enough into contingency plans and DRR – but would that speak for us ?

One could argue that the Hyopgo Framework for Action (HFA) needs to be more strengthened / adapted / detailed regarding DRR starting already in the Early Recovery Phase in order to avoid higher vulnerability in affected areas.

I strongly believe that humanitarian organizations should be evaluated regarding their involvement and implementation of DRR programs. A wise step could be for organizations to self commit in their strategies that each program has a DRR component.

written by Clemens von HeimendahlJune 24th, 2008

One comment

  1. Reading about the intervention after Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar there seems to be increase of the topic. As the Early Recovery Strategy says at point 5.5 :

    5.5 Disaster risk reduction (DRR)
    Disaster risk reduction (DRR) measures need to be incorporated into the work of all clusters/sectors. Specific DRR measures within the context of this strategy are also needed to strengthen the capacity of communities to withstand and deal with the after-effects of future natural disasters. A first step will involve identifying and targeting community groups and civil society organizations in at-risk communities in order to initiate community-level capacity-building activities. Measures will also be introduced to incorporate disaster risk reduction in early recovery efforts, promoting the notion of ‘build back better’ for the housing sector, settlement planning, infrastructure, health and education facilities, water and sanitation, and livelihoods.
    Proposed interventions: eg.
    • Establishment of village disaster preparedness committees;
    • Identification of community resources for disaster response such as emergency shelters and equipment;
    • Training of masons on hazard resistant constructions;
    • Development and dissemination of guidelines for DRR across all sectors; or
    • Training for school teachers to raise awareness of children about disaster risks and disaster preparedness;
    Proposed indicators: eg.
    • Number of communities representatives trained in disaster response and early-warning systems; or
    • Community resources for disaster response identified in x number of villages.

    That sounds promising and we are now asked to come up with programs, which include DRR elements.

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