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Breaking out of the disaster-aid cycle

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In Sendai, Japan, on Tuesday at the Sendai Dialogue, a high-level forum focused on mainstreaming disaster risk management into international development assistance, the Africa angle quickly dominated what already was a lively debate.

What can Africa learn from Japan in terms of disaster risk management? What can Japan and the rest of the world learn from Africa? Are disaster prevention and fast development at odds with each other? Are Africa’s disasters more difficult to tackle?

The Sendai Dialogue is happening here for a reason. After almost two years of reconstruction following a record shattering earthquake and tsunami that wiped out much of this Japanese city, the world’s most natural disaster-prepared country is eager to share its many lessons.

Not surprisingly, many of those lessons are relevant for Sub Saharan Africa, a region disproportionally hit by catastrophe.

As World Bank Africa Region Vice President Makhtar Diop told policy makers in the Dialogue’s opening speech, Africa has seen more than 1000 disasters over the past 40 years – 300 in the past five years alone – with over 330 million people affected. A majority of these disasters have been in the form of droughts and floods and are set to increase as the climate changes. The most widespread disasters are devastating droughts that have led to famine for vulnerable populations. In the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, over 20 million people are currently suffering the ravaging effects of drought.

But drought is eminently predictable, even in our changing climate, and thus its effect on food security can be prevented and mitigated. As Minister Robinson Githae of Kenya put it in today’s panel discussion, drought and famine are not necessarily one and the same. With the right policies and preparation, Africa can become resilient.

So what will it take to protect Africa’s vulnerable populations from losing the little they have to yet another flood or drought? Part of the answer is balancing the need for prevention and planning ahead with the immediate development needs of what is still the world’s poorest continent. This can be difficult for governments to digest. How do you justify taking scant resources away from providing basic services like education and health and instead investing in a drought or flood that might come next year? It’s a gamble, but one that is important to take given disasters’ direct and strong impact on human lives.

At the World Bank, recognizing both the human angle of reducing impacts and the need for more sustainable and long term growth, lies at the center of our work.

"We have to try to break out from the disaster-aid cycle and look at the resilience agenda from a development lens, linking humanitarian and development assistance," the World Bank’s Diop told the audience. "This includes the preparation for climate change which will make disasters an even greater threat. After all, disaster risk preparedness and climate change adaptation measures are two sides of the same coin."

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Mauro Azeredo

Oficial de comunicaciones del Banco Mundial en Brasil

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