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The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction — Day 5

June 19, 2009

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Today, at the last day of the Platform, I took advantage of a fascinating early session to understand what is being done about legal frameworks for disaster response.

Governments around the world have committed to take action to reduce disaster risk, and have adopted the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) as a guideline to reduce vulnerabilities to natural hazards. Priority Five of the Framework — on which this session was based — has to do with strengthening preparedness efforts for disasters, as well as having some kind of legal preface for governments to prepare for collaboration with all the international actors that might arrive on the scene after a disaster. It will also help international organizations to better understand the context in which we are working.

What was fascinating about the session is that the three countries that were presenting —Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Norway — aren’t countries that we immediately think of as having the largest natural disasters in recent years. In fact, Norway has been on the giving, not receiving, end of aid for many years. However, because of climate change, Norway believes it is important to have something in place should they need outside assistance. (Hurricane Katrina was cited, among others, as an unexpected disaster for a country that traditionally has not needed outside assistance).

These three countries are receiving legal assistance through a partnership between the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and other relevant countries. The ultimate goal is to put some kind of Disaster Management Law in place, despite the fact that it is usually a very lengthy and difficult process, as described by the presenters. There was a representative from Indonesia who spoke up about their current Disaster Management Law, and the Minister from Cambodia then joked about having used Indonesia's law as a template for Cambodia's law.

What I took away from this session is the importance for Mercy Corps to become very familiar with the laws as they are developing, because there is always a tension between the coordination and control a government has to have with so many humanitarian actors coming in, while also realizing the need for assistance to enter the country. I spoke to OCHA afterwards in order to make sure that communication on the project is disseminated as new laws are developed.

The remaining meetings were all part of the main closing session. There were presentations from different stakeholders, as well as new commitments made by governments and international organizations towards the implementation of disaster risk reduction activities. There was a commitment to take the work being done in the communities extremely seriously. This is something that Mercy Corps, and the various networks that we are involved in — the Global Network for Civil Society Organizations, the InterAction disaster risk reduction working group and the Emergency Capacity Building (ECB) project — are pleased with, as we feel that the communities we are working in are doing great work that should be scaled up and supported by national platforms in each country.

Here are some of my takeaways from five days here at the Platform:

  1. There is common agreement that development activities without disaster risk reduction is a risky proposition. With such an increase in disasters and future hazards due to climate change, even developed countries need to be looking at disaster risk reduction. As one participant stated, "risk is like the holes at the bottom of a bucket, and the holes keep getting bigger."
  2. Many governments are taking on the difficult challenge to mainstream disaster risk reduction into several key ministries. We should continue to mainstream it into our development activites in all sectors.
  3. Low-intensity hazards are becoming more and more expansive, and we can't blame climate change for all of them. For example, "squatter camps are not due to climate, they are due to man." We need to be looking at issues other than climate risk, while still recognizing it as a critical global driver of risk.
  4. When considering cost/benefit analysis, the distributional context of impact is extremely important. There are a wide range of methodologies that combine the qualitative and quantitative although, at this moment, there doesn't seem to be a commonly-accepted way to do these studies in disaster risk reduction.
  5. Climate change adaptation is seen as a mitigation measure within the general scope of disaster risk reduction. There needs to be much better integration between the two — one suggested way to ensure integration is to have co-financing.
  6. The importance of ecosystems and protecting them are also important disaster risk reduction mitigation measures.
  7. Ministries are putting percentages of disaster risk reduction funding into development ministries — Indonesia is actually debating putting 20 percent of its education portfolio into disaster risk reduction education. Financing for these activities should not be standalone — these activities are especially effective when integrated.
  8. Youth are key players in disaster risk reduction. We should continue to mobilize them for reducing risk and consider children living with disabilities when carrying out interventions.
  9. Targets for both governments and civil society organizations should be made to move disaster risk reduction forward.
  10. Some governments are legally preparing for the increase in disasters, and we need to become familiar with these laws.
  11. There are calls by the civil society community for more resources to reach the community level, for there to be an independent evaluation of the Hyogo Framework and for more participation at the local level in existing disaster risk reduction platforms.

These are some general points, and I'm sure there are others that I will find in my notes. Please let me know if there are any questions or thoughts on what I have written over these past five days.

It has been a long week and a great challenge to bring so many governments and international organizations together to get concrete commitments. It was important for us to be present at this global event and, hopefully, we will continue to have the resources and support to increase some of the excellent work we are carrying out in the field.

It was nice sharing this experience through the web. Until next time, my home is calling!