Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Towards an Enabling Environment to Step Up for Disaster Risk Reduction

Special Article on International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDR) 2011
Theme: Making Children and Young People Partners in Disaster Risk Reduction
Systematic increase in the intensity and frequency of natural hazards, most of which are hydro-meteorological in nature and thus climate-related, has critically influenced and impacted the capacities of the state and other stakeholders in terms of disaster preparedness and response. These uncertainties and surprises have become the order of the day, rather than being exceptions or anomalies in the normal patterns. Limitations to predict, interpret and comprehend many such emerging scenarios and their potential impacts very often overwhelmthe timeliness and effectiveness of many of the existing institutional arrangements and response mechanisms at various levels in society. Disasters, which are an outcome and ultimate manifestation of interaction of these hazards with many such underlying socio-cultural, economic, political and environmental vulnerabilities, are thus, mostly ‘unnatural’ in character.
Nations, industrialized, emerging as well as low-income, all across the world have been grappling with this enormous challenge to reduce a society’s risk to such hazards and in turn protect their citizens and economies.Greater emphasis on and preference for pre-ante (holistic) approaches rather than ex-post mechanisms(mostly relief-centric) have steered across a paradigm shift towards disaster risk reduction (DRR) initiatives which are culturally appropriate, institutionally adaptive, politically just, and economically viable.
While most of the DRR approaches have been country and context specific, opportunities through greater collaboration and coordination among nation states have led to the emergence of many regional and international initiatives. The Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA, 2005-2015) is the leading globally agreed strategy agreed upon by world leaders at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan, in 2005 which aims at ‘Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters’.
India, primarily because of its geographic location and a burgeoning population, around 37% of which lives below poverty line, is  one of the most vulnerable countries in the world where livelihoods, majority of which is climate-dependent, are most at risk. Estimates by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Government of India put the total death toll at around 107,813 people in the last two decades (1982-2001) which translates to an average death toll of more than 5,390 per year!According to the World Bank,India loses about 2 % of its GDP and 12% of its revenues every year due to losses from natural disasters. The recently published World Risk Report (2011) ranks India 71 among 173 countries, with India lacking 80.11% of coping capacities in terms of resources and frameworks that are essential during a disaster.
While these aggregates and averages captures the extent of losses, it don’t reflect extent of economic, physical and psycho-social damages and trauma among one of the most silent but worst sufferers in any disaster situation; that of children and young people.According to thelatest GlobalAssessment Report for Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR-2011), a bi-annual flagship publication coordinated by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), estimates that around 66.5 million children are affected annually by disasters.
Realizing the urgency to support informed participation of and systematicengagementwith children and young people in various disaster risk reduction initiatives, efforts of various kinds have been taken up at various levels. In-depth consultations with more than 600 children in 21 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, lead to the development of the Children’s Charter for Disaster Risk Reduction, an action plan for disaster risk reduction for children by children. The five point charter aims to inform diverse stakeholders on the need for a child-centered approach to risk reduction and in turn gather support from governments, donors and other agencies.

This Children’s Charter calls for collaborative actions to ensure that:
a. Schools must be safe and education must not be interrupted;
b. Child protection must be a priority before, during and after a disaster;
c. Children have the right to participate and to access the information they need;
d. Community infrastructure must be safe, and relief and reconstruction must help reduce future risk and; and
e. Disaster Risk Reduction must reach the most vulnerable.
Innovative and participatory actions developed based on this Charter would contribute to many of the ongoing multi-level efforts and strengthen an enabling environment which would help children graduate from being silent-victims to active-decision makers in disaster risk reduction.
One such definitive and forward looking initiative has been the recently launched National School Safety Project, a demonstration project of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Government of India. It aims to promote culture of safety in schools by initiating policy level change, capacity building of officials, teachers and other stakeholders, promoting non-structural mitigation measures and transfer of demonstrative retrofitting technology to Schools on pilot basis. This project is to be implemented in 43 Districts of 22 identified States/UTs falling in seismic zones IV and V. The total number of Schools covered under this demonstration project would be 8600, with 200 schools in each district.
While the state of Orissa is not part of this pilot initiative, there are existing institutional opportunities to collaboratively initiate such a context-specific school safety initiative here in the state. While there is no denying the fact that disasters destroy and uproot lives and livelihoods, it do open up new opportunities to build-back-better and even build-back-smarter. As the state government embarks on an ambitious and time-bound task of early recovery and rehabilitation programme in the flood-affected regions, an informed reflection on and discussion around issues of school safety and child-centered approach to DRR would trigger and bolster collaborative efforts towards an enabling environment for this. This could further be enriched through systematic institutional collaboration with some of the ongoing projects which have vulnerability reduction as one of the project objectives, like the World Bank supported Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project (ICZMP) and National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP), UNDP-Government of India Disaster Risk Reduction Project (2009-2011) and a host of other small scale projects facilitated by international donors and NGOs, business groups and private foundations in association with community based organizations (CBOs). Support for and investment in such an enabling environment is the need of the hourto institutionalize a ‘culture of preparedness’, which is absolutely critical for a vulnerable state like Orissa.
On the occasion of the International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) let us remind ourselves and get across the message clear and loud that "there is no such thing as a 'natural' disaster" and it’s time to Step Up for Disaster Risk Reduction!

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