Report: Disasters Without Borders- Regional Resilience for Sustainable Development
The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is a UN organization that promotes strategic coordination between global and in-country projects. With the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals, most of their projects are now focused on creating environmental resilience against sea level rise, desertification, and loss of biodiversity. There is a very strong connection between disaster risk reduction and development, since poor communities in developing countries are often the most vulnerable to floods, droughts, and other extreme variations in natural patterns. Unfortunately, the Asia-Pacific region was hit with 40% of the world’s natural disasters between 2005 and 2014, causing accidents that took approximately 500,000 lives and leaving another 1.4 billion people in precarious environmental situations.
The report Disasters Without Borders: Regional Resilience for Sustainable Development, published by ESCAP in October 2015, shares important experiences and suggestions for effective actions that can help communities avoid catastrophes and mitigate the impacts of natural disasters. For instance, properly managing the environment, creating strong social bonds, and investing in adequate science and technology that are ready to provide relief are all efforts that pay off when an area is hit by droughts, tropical cyclones, earthquakes, or floods. The report explores social, economic, political and technical aspects of disaster management, and stresses the importance of appropriate systems that gather and distribute weather forecasts and climate-related information.
Economically, natural disasters can be very costly. Recovery efforts can take many years to be completed, and are estimated to be around US$ 160 million per year. If we consider that a large part of the population in Asia and the Pacific lives under two US dollars a day, it can be overwhelming even to imagine the struggles they go through during and soon after natural disasters. For those living in urban areas, especially in slums, the lack of sanitation and the challenges to find clean water can be a matter of survival. So what can be done to minimize such negative impacts? The answer is building resilience.
Increasing resilience saves lives and money. In the disaster context, building resilience is about increasing the capacity of natural ecosystems to act as a buffer against extreme weather events, and it is about enhancing the ability of local people to respond and quickly recover after major natural disasters. For this matter, it is important to highlight the effectiveness of early warning and information management systems. Unfortunately, their upfront costs can be discouraging. But the ESCAP report has emphasized that investments in these systems can save up to 36 times the amount of financial resources that are needed for disaster recovery.
The repost focuses particularly on droughts, a kind a natural disaster that is a “silent killer, and therefore often forgotten.” They affect agriculture and subsistence livelihoods, fisheries, forestry, and industry. In agriculture, there are four types of drought: long periods with minimal rain fall, irregular precipitation during rainy seasons, reduced snowmelt, and what is known as dzud – “a combination of events leading to inadequate pasture or fodder for livestock.” The consequences of these droughts are vast. They lead to decreased food production and eventual famine; they decrease economic activity, causing unemployment and social unrest; and they impose a heavy toll on all regular activities, such as taking children away from schools and causing international migration (climate refugees).
Building resilience against droughts can be divided in three major phases. The first one requires pre-disaster mitigation actions, which include gathering long-term information about weather patterns, developing climate modeling and scenario planning. Mitigation also involves working with communities and assessing what resources they have and what infrastructure needs to be built, and finally it is vital to recover key ecosystems that can provide protection and buffer against sudden changes.
The second phase of disaster management is related to the actions required immediately before, during, and soon after emergencies. Basically, it is crucial to provide the right information, to the right stakeholders and in the right moment. Both government and community institutions are important for this, because they create a strong “social safety net” that can help save numerous lives during evacuations. Finally, the last phase is concerned with assessing damages and losses and rebuilding. Managing recoveries from droughts requires providing insurance for subsistence farmers, and in a more general perspective it involves getting local governments to create and use partnerships with the private sector and with other international institutions. The report mentions several organizations in the region that provide technical training as well as other resources to assist neighbor countries in rebuilding.
The two most important messages from the report are these: First, it is important to integrate planning and policy decision-making processes with technical knowledge on weather patterns and climate models. This will assist governments in identifying different needs by different groups, and in responding accordingly. Second, ESCAP has already identified the social, economic, political and technical aspects of disaster management, and the report points to areas of potential improvements in the community, regional and national levels. Now, the challenge is for policy makers to translate these suggestions into actionable projects that build resilience among vulnerable communities in Asia and in the Pacific as a way to support local people achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.