Over the last ten years, the International Federation's World Disasters Report has played an important role in increasing awareness about the effects of disasters as well as identifying trends.
A comparison of the 70s and the 90s through World Disasters Report shows that deaths from natural disasters fell from 2 million to under 800 000 people, but the numbers of people affected tripled to 2 billion, and economic losses multiplied five times, to $629 billion in the 1990s. It is pretty clear, although data reliance is far from good enough yet, that the trend is there, luckily down for deaths but incremental increase for affected people and economic losses.
Disasters continue to devastate the development of poorer countries, and lack of equality with an increasing number of poor living in the wrong place with the wrong conditions will exacerbate this trend.
In 2002 we launched a report about the need for increasing attention to risk reduction and this year we take one step further, looking at communities and resilience through disaster and development eyes at the same time. Why such a step for a disaster report?
Look at it from an International Federation perspective. We are often perceived as a relief organization, and we have acquired substantial experience in disasters since 1919. There are even statistics on disasters since 1919. We play a strong role in disaster preparedness and response, and are probably better equipped in disaster management and coordination than ever before.
Modern Federation assessment, management and coordination tools are increasingly compatible with UN tools. With OCHA we co-chair the UN IASC task force on natural disasters to further improve coordination among UN and non-Un actors in disasters. And our Disaster information system is increasingly also a used to monitor disasters.
But whilst we spend most funds on humanitarian assistance, the Federation spends most of the time and effort on capacity building, on long-term health programs, disaster preparedness, risk reduction and recovery. We have long worked on preparedness and response, or shall I say compensatory disaster risk management.
Based on that core work - and seeing with their own eyes what triggers disasters - National Societies increasingly turn to a broader role in risk reduction, prospective disaster risk management, especially community awareness, education, small-scale mitigation action and advocacy.
I work in the IFRC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, a huge organization with an immense network of volunteers around the world, and member national societies in 181 countries. It is one of those super tanker organizations, which changes direction slowly, seemingly standing still, while adjusting the course. It must have been in the 80s. Robert Chambers and others were there with PRA and RRA and Mary B Anderson argued the capacities of victims.
The campaign Prevention Better Than Cure grew strong within the RCRC because of the droughts in Sahel and the Horn of Africa. And disaster preparedness, probably an area of work since always, was seen as one of four core areas of the RCRC societies in 1999, and got a profile in our Strategy 2010, which has very similar directions to the Millennium Development Goals.
Over the last decades the messages from National Societies have come back loud and clear and more and more strongly:
"We are working on disaster response, and that is important. And don't forget that we are also involved in so many small-scale disasters, which you never even hear about or read in newspapers. But there is more to it. Much can be done beforehand to avoid unnecessary disaster impact, to mitigate on a small scale, to reduce risks, to advocate, and raise awareness. We National Societies need a broader approach for more impact among poor people. We need to be proactive and we need to work with development actors as well as more closely with municipalities and other government levels".
As a consequence the Federation is adapting policies, guidelines, tools and training to a new environment, learning from experience by staff and volunteers in different parts of the world. This push has led to a disaster risk reduction agenda as one main Federation item on the 2003 Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement International Conference. This conference is held every fourth year with states, signatory to the Geneva Conventions, participating.
The outcome this time was an Agenda for Humanitarian Action, a strong plea to host and donor governments as well as to international organizations and civil society to be more forceful and proactive in disaster risk management, in policy reform as well as in legislation, implementation of measures in inclusive partnerships across the lines, including civil society.
So this is the story of an institutionalization process from a traditional relief approach to more of a focus for preparedness and later mitigation. Decisive elements have been lessons learnt from disasters, stark stories and figures from World Disasters Report, increasing support through partnerships with like minded and of course policy and tools development. The privileged relationship with governments, the policy dialogue through the International Conference, which led to the resolutions last year about the urgency of disaster risk reduction is crucial.
If I pick one essential tool it must be the VCA process, the Hazard, Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment which about half of the NS have carried out. This is an eye opener tool. It gives facts and analysis about who is vulnerability to what and where and what capacity is available as well as hazard information, It gives NS a planning tool, but more importantly it sharpens purpose and understanding, based on facts.
Together with the disaster baseline which most NS now have, based on a questionnaire, we can now support them in a more tailored way. Both they and we know more about their needs for capacity building.
This institutionalization may be mid-way by now. What are the challenges? - Lots actually.
- Not all NS have pushed for change and there are lingering relief cowboys among staff around, who cannot see the need for a changed approach. So the famous dichotomy is not gone.
- A developmental approach to disasters means change, in attitudes, knowledge, methods and skills. A disaster drill or evacuation exercise does require other types of facilitation than a vulnerability and capacity assessment. So we need to sensitize and train.
- RCRC has in the past been quite inward looking and not used to partnerships. The social mobilization of at risk communities is one of our comparative advantages. Assessments and analysis with partners involved prepare for broader support and joint initiatives in mitigation and preparedness, and ideally both government, NGOs, UN, and Red Cross Red Crescent participate in assessment and analysis. After that the partnerships come more natural, based on common analysis and understanding.
- Whereas coordination within the humanitarian sector is becoming increasingly effective, there are no self-evident coordination mechanisms and partners for a broader approach, which focuses on risk. This is especially clear on a regional and national level.
But we are slowly finding our way. The Federation is one of the first international non-environmental organizations, which is taking the risks associated with climate change very seriously. Together with the Netherlands Red Cross we have set up a centre, specialized in these issues. A lot has been invested in establishing contacts with climate scientists all over the world, to understand the problem, its meaning for vulnerable people and its relation to disaster management. We are developing programs that seek the synergy between the science and humanitarian communities, with interesting results at all levels, from local community up to international level and back again.
Another initiative: We have agreed to host and manage the ProVention Consortium together with the World Bank for four years. There were some comments initially on the incompatibility of the two managing partners, the World Bank and the Federation. But we found a relationship - in the recovery and the post-conflict phase.
ProVention is now hosted by the Federation in Geneva. It is a crucial vehicle for us in disaster risk management for global policy reform, for encouraging partnerships and sharing best practice, and for coordination. In the consortium we find opportunities for information sharing and increased learning together.
As an action-based organization the Federation uses outcome from ProVention research, which we could never carry out ourselves, we become part of cutting edge initiatives and find links to new partners to be more coherent, less fragmented, to minimize overlaps, and to strengthen joint advocacy.
And as a seasoned actor in community disaster risk management, the Federation contributes to sharing knowledge in that field.
ISDR provides another vehicle for coordination especially with the UN system, in the way that ProVention is a vehicle with the international financial institutions, the private sector and some more specific stakeholders.
We have recently started discussions on an operational level with UNDP to work more closely. UNDP supports states in disaster risk management, Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies coordinate disaster planning with governments and are part of civil society mobilization and community activities. This has worked well in for instance Albania and is now replicated in other countries.
And we have recently started discussions with ECHO, actually with Peter Billing here, to see if we can do something together in the Pacific.
So what does all this mean in terms of the question? Why is mitigation and preparedness so low on the aid agenda when all this may seem very positive and how can this be addressed?
I think the issue is best taken care of on community level, which means that work can seem positive small scale. But how many communities are there in risk-prone area? What does scaling up mean in that context?
There are a group of NGOs who are getting stronger in mitigation and disaster preparedness, and the Tear Fund report came in handy last year.
From a donor point of view the Good Humanitarian Donorship does talk about less earmarked money and increasing understanding of the importance of disaster preparedness is a beginning etc, and is undertaking assessments to prepare the appeals in DRC.
What should we do right now to move issues ahead?
We need to look for interventions and entry-points. Policy, partnerships and practice are key areas.
First, use the recovery window Focus on the recovery window of opportunity to increase humanitarian, development and environment cooperation. Donor governments should allocate a certain percentage of all disaster and post-conflict recovery and reconstruction funds to risk reduction measures. This should help government offices to create integrated approaches and collaboration between themselves, and not less for collaboration and coordination among post-disaster recovery actors.
Second, empower the gap between development and humanitarian assistance
There is good knowledge among a growing group of donor government aid agencies, especially on the humanitarian side. Some officials on the development side I talked to say that they do understand the importance of risk reduction, but that the governments in developing countries don't ask for that kind of a programme. Government representatives in certain both low and middle-income countries I have talked to have said to me that they know they need other, safer formula. But they lack the expertise to formulate proposals.
And when they do, as in the case after the Mozambique floods for instance, where lessons from the floods were learnt, there were also immense needs in health and education which in the end got the priority. That reality will continue. And honestly, disaster preparedness can be seen as a programme, but mitigation or risk reduction is not a programme.
Governments will not ask for a risk reduction sectoral programme, and no donor should wait for it. Risk reduction falls into the gap between humanitarian assistance and development cooperation. Empower that gap. Put somebody reasonably high up in the development aid hierarchy in the donor countries with the authority to steer a process for more informed development programming, which includes risk. Risk reduction is not a separate sector - it is a dimension, a cross-cutting issue.
Third: Set targets at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction at Kobe/Hyogo
X per cent of schools and hospitals to have been built according to building codes for instance.
Four: Get hard data that convince economists.
Support national disaster data collection and analysis and support initiatives that give evidence that mitigation pays. Disaster data trends are evident but data are still weak, especially from a national perspective. CRED-EMDAT in Louvain is doing a great job, but it is not enough to have international data. It is important for countries to build up their own understanding of disasters through data collection and analysis. ProVention has got financial support from DFID to improve current practice in measuring benefits of mitigation and to make best methods available.
Five: On the practice side, broad assessments for people-led initatives Increase use of broad assessments in community work. This increases the relevance of support and makes it possible to support mitigation rather as a dimension than as a separate programme.
Six: Learn together
We still have a lot to learn: Use participatory monitoring as a learning tool. We need it on the local level and it is the best knowledge sharing method. In the RCRC we are now in a situation where there is a lot of enthusiasm, but many need to learn from current practice. Both northern NS who support NS in the south. And southern NS. We are right now discussing an initiative with British RC and DFID, in which British RC can take the lead within the Federation for developing knowledge sharing more both on a sub-country, subregional and regional level, complemented by technological tools on the global level. Use intra-net and websites to share knowledge.
And finally seven:
I mentioned quite a lot about partnerships before. One thing is for sure. Let us look for coordination, because alone is not possible any more, Let us mix with "the wrong people" so to say, those who are different, who have another culture, development planners and disaster managers. For instance.