Dis­as­ter and de­vel­op­ment

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - By He­len Clark

When Ty­phoon Hagupit made land­fall in the Philip­pines on De­cem­ber 6, mem­o­ries of Ty­phoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,300 peo­ple, were fresh in peo­ple’s minds. Some 227,000 fam­i­lies – more than a mil­lion peo­ple – were evac­u­ated ahead of Hagupit’s ar­rival, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. The ty­phoon, one of the strong­est of the sea­son, killed some 30 peo­ple. All deaths from dis­as­ters are a tragedy, but the fact that this num­ber was not much higher at­tests to the ef­forts that the Philip­pines has made to pre­pare for nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

As Ad­min­is­tra­tor of the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme, I have seen first­hand the dev­as­ta­tion and heart­break caused by dis­as­ters around the world. Since the be­gin­ning of the cen­tury, more than a mil­lion peo­ple have died in storms like Hagupit and other ma­jor dis­as­ters, such as the 2010 Haitian earth­quake, with eco­nomic dam­age to­tal­ing nearly $2 trln.

Th­ese losses are tragic, but they are also avoid­able. They serve as a re­minder that dis­as­ter preparedness is not an op­tional lux­ury; it is a con­stant, in­ten­sive process that is nec­es­sary to save lives, pro­tect in­fra­struc­ture, and safe­guard de­vel­op­ment.

The ar­gu­ment for in­vest­ing in dis­as­ter preparedness is sim­ple. If coun­tries ex­pect to ex­pe­ri­ence nat­u­ral haz­ards, such as vi­o­lent storm sea­sons or ma­jor earth­quakes, then in­vest­ing time and re­sources in pre­par­ing for shocks will save lives and pro­tect com­mu­ni­ties from other losses.

Un­for­tu­nately, gov­ern­ments of­ten put dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties ahead of dis­as­ter prepa­ra­tion. Other in­vest­ments of­ten take prece­dence, and donors have his­tor­i­cally funded emer­gency re­lief much more read­ily than pre-dis­as­ter preparedness. The mea­sures that are im­ple­mented tend to be stand-alone and piece­meal, rather than part of a larger, sys­tem­atic risk-re­duc­tion plan.

That needs to change. Coun­tries like the Philip­pines con­tinue to demon­strate the ben­e­fits of in­vest­ing in preparedness, es­pe­cially when done as part of a larger riskmit­i­ga­tion ef­fort. Ty­phoon Hagupit is just the lat­est event to showcase this.

The Philip­pine gov­ern­ment’s quick, ef­fec­tive re­sponse saved many lives. But it is im­por­tant to note that its ef­forts were not sim­ply an overnight re­ac­tion to the on­com­ing storm. They were part of a na­tional, com­pre­hen­sive ef­fort that was long in the mak­ing. Of­fi­cials were wise to ac­knowl­edge their coun­try’s vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and to com­mit the re­sources and cap­i­tal needed to build re­silience.

The Philip­pines in­cludes preparedness as a core com­po­nent in its over­all strat­egy for re­duc­ing dis­as­ter risk. Over the last decade, the coun­try’s au­thor­i­ties have raised aware­ness, es­tab­lished and strength­ened dis­as­ter­man­age­ment in­sti­tu­tions, and worked on re­cov­er­ing from past dis­as­ters, in­clud­ing Ty­phoon Haiyan. Na­tional and lo­cal dis­as­ter plans have been im­proved, stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures have been de­vel­oped, and early warn­ing sys­tems have been put in place. The end re­sult has been noth­ing short of a trans­for­ma­tion of how the Philip­pines re­acts to dis­as­ters.

The UNDP, and the wider UN sys­tem, is sup­port­ing gov­ern­ments as they place greater em­pha­sis on dis­as­ter-risk re­duc­tion, in­clud­ing preparedness, by strength­en­ing their in­sti­tu­tional ca­pac­ity to plan and act when needed. In ad­di­tion to as­sist­ing with emer­gency re­lief, it is cru­cial that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity help to in­tro­duce ba­sic pro­ce­dures for re­spond­ing long be­fore dis­as­ter strikes.

First re­spon­ders, for ex­am­ple, need train­ing and tools. Emer­gency shel­ters and evac­u­a­tion routes must be planned and es­tab­lished us­ing risk as­sess­ments and ac­tual sim­u­la­tions. If com­mu­ni­ties are to be ex­pected to make use of avail­able re­sources, they need to be in­volved in the de­sign and de­vel­op­ment of emer­gency plans. Risk re­duc­tion, in­clud­ing preparedness, is also, first and fore­most, rooted in re­spon­sive gov­er­nance. In March 2015 a new global frame­work for dis­as­ter re­duc­tion will be agreed in Sendai, Ja­pan. It is cru­cial that del­e­gates push for trans­for­ma­tional change that en­ables preparedness and saves lives. Fur­ther­more, risk re­duc­tion needs to be in­te­gral to sus­tain­able-de­vel­op­ment strate­gies.

The Philip­pines can serve as an ex­am­ple. The ar­chi­pel­ago will al­ways be in the path of trop­i­cal storms. There is lit­tle of­fi­cials can do about that. But what they can do – and have done – is em­pha­sise risk re­duc­tion and strengthen preparedness, thereby sav­ing lives and build­ing greater re­silience. That is a les­son that all of us must learn.

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