Participants at the first Community Practitioners Academy meeting, which was held ahead of the Fourth Global Platform for Disaster Reduction in Generva. - Photos: Margaret Arnold/World Bank
Communities are organized and want to be recognized as partners with expertise and experience in building resilience rather than as clients and beneficiaries of projects. This was the common theme that emerged from the key messages delivered by grassroots leaders at the Fourth Global Platform for Disaster Reduction taking place in Geneva this week, organized by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). The Global Platform is a biennial forum for information exchange and partnership building across sectors to reduce disaster risk.
Ahead of the Global Platform, 45 community practitioners from 17 countries - Bangladesh, Chile, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Nicaragua, Peru, Philippines, Samoa, Uganda, Venezuela, and the United States - met for a day and a half to share their practices and experiences in responding to disasters and building long-term resilience to climate change, and to strategize their engagement in around the Global Platform. I had the privilege to participate in this first Community Practitioners Academy, which was convened by GROOTS International, Huairou Commission, UNISDR, the World Bank, Global Facility for Disaster Risk and Reduction (GFDRR), Act Alliance, Action Aid, Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation (JANIC), Cordaid, and Oxfam, and was planned in partnership with the community practitioners from their respective networks.
- Community Driven Development
- Disaster Risk Reduction
- climate resilience
- Climate Change
- Climate Change
- South Asia
- Latin America & Caribbean
- East Asia and Pacific
- Venezuela, Republica Bolivariana de
- United States
"We have lost everything, without our homes we have nothing and now our houses are gone, broken and destroyed. Apa, what are we going to do? Do we sort out our utensils and belongings or buy food? All we have is our home and now we have nothing. No tin, no home, everything is flooded! “
- A flood-affected female resident of a low-income urban settlement (Rashid, 2000: 244)
The urban poor in low-income settlements in the cities of Bangladesh are one of the most vulnerable populations to disasters and climate risks. Nearly 35 percent of the country’s urban population lives in highly dense and populated informal settlements that lack protective infrastructure, basic services and resources needed to face the challenges in an era of changing climate. With the frequency and intensity of flooding as well as cold and heat waves increasing over the years, these marginalized communities are yet to be taken into mainstream climate adaptation planning and policy.
A huge and chaotic conversation over how to respond to the appalling Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh (where the death toll has now passed an unprecedented 1100) is producing some important initial results, in the form of the international ‘Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’, launched last week.
I got a glimpse of the background on Wednesday at a meeting of the Ethical Trading Initiative, which brings together big brand retailers, including garment companies, trades unions and INGOs like Oxfam to work on wages and conditions in company supply chains. The Accord got some pretty rave reviews – ‘absolutely historic’, said Ben Moxham of the UK Trades Union Congress; comparable to the 1911 Chicago factory fire, according to one of the big clothes retailers at the meeting.
So what does it say? The Accord covers independent safety inspections, publicly reported; mandatory repairs and renovations; a vital role for workers and trade unions, including a commitment to Bangladesh’s Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety (a national initiative). A key, and controversial aspect is that the Accord will include a legally binding arbitration mechanism, which wins a lot of trust from civil society and trade unions, but has spooked a number of companies based in the litigation-tastic USA (not all though – part of Tommy Hilfiger’s in there, while Abercrombie and Fitch have said it they will join).
As the East Coast USA deals with Hurricane Sandy, aka “Frankenstorm”, and Hawaii breathes a sigh of relief at a downgraded tsunami, we are again reminded of the immediate and long-term socio-economic destruction of natural disasters. Hurricane Sandy has resulted in school and public transportation closures, flight cancellations, area evacuations, and even modified Presidential campaign schedules. New York Mayor Bloomberg urged residents to cooperate, “if you don't evacuate, you are not only endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of the first responders who are going in to rescue you. This is a serious and dangerous storm.”1
Ground zero for natural disasters lies not in the US, however, but in the Asia Pacific Region. Last week, UN ESCAP/UNISDR released the Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2012, ‘Reducing Vulnerability and Exposure to Disasters’. In the year 2011 alone, Asia Pacific represented:
- 80% (US$ 294/366.1 billion) of the annual global disaster losses
- Half of the most costly natural disaster events
New York City has been a global leader in proactively planning and preparing for climate change under Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s civic leaders. PlanNYC sets out clear goals and plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30% and to increase the resilience of our communities, natural systems, and infrastructure to climate risks. It already started the process of adapting to climate change, including elevating infrastructure such as wastewater treatment plant, and expanding “green infrastructure” like marshes along the coast to buffer and limit flooding impacts.
But the events triggered by the unprecedented hurricane Sandy haven shown that what has been done is still not sufficient. What can we learn from the disaster? There will be a lot of valuable lessons coming out in the months ahead, as emergency responses are still ongoing and reconstruction are yet to start. Here are three early lessons:
In the honor of Halloween (today), let’s talk about the nightmare of insect swarms, composed of millions of voracious insects, devouring everything they encounter.
Another day, another, errm Day. Ahead of tomorrow’s International Day for Disaster Reduction (hold the front page….), Debbie Hillier, Oxfam’s Humanitarian PolicyAdviser (right), explores the links between DRR and inequality
I have never understood why disaster risk reduction (DRR) gets so little attention – from governments, donors and the aid system in general. Be honest, how many of you know what the Hyogo Framework for Action is, or know what UNISDR stands for? This is despite the proven effectiveness and – the holy grail - value for money of disaster risk reduction. Frankly speaking, it’s a no-brainer.
We all seem to understand the imperative for prevention when it comes to vaccinations and insurance, but somehow this falls apart when it comes to reducing the impacts of disasters. For national governments, I suppose that time delays between public investment in risk reduction and benefits when hazards are infrequent, and the political invisibility of successful risk reduction can be pressures for a NIMTOF (Not in My Term of Office) attitude that leads to inaction. And donors prefer the Superman of high profile disaster response to the Clark Kent of disaster risk reduction.
It is not often that you find forest officers sitting face to face with mining officials to discuss environmental sustainability—especially in a state which is rich in both minerals and forest resources. Nor do you often see fishermen walking toe to toe with farmers in sweltering 48° C heat to be heard alongside tribal chiefs and industrialists. And it is not often that a state, dubbed as the disaster capital of India, and which lags behind on every conceivable development indicator, comes out on top by being the first to consult with its people on how to tackle the onslaught of climate change.
Well, this happened last week in India’s coastal state of Orissa, one of the poorest states in the country. While the richer states - Maharashtra and Gujarat - were busy building fancy climate models to predict temperature and rainfall changes fifty years from now, Orissa focused on what it can do today.