Asia & Pacific

  • Disaster-prone Asia still sorely lacking risk governance

    M.E. Reza

    25/06/15

Speed read

  • The 2015 Sendai Framework has endorsed a major shift to disaster risk management

  • But most countries practise risk reduction rather than manage underlying risks

  • Lack of governance opens wide vulnerabilities to acute damages from disasters

M.E. Reza expounds on Asia’s need to switch from disaster management to disaster risk management.

Economic progress in South-East Asian and Pacific countries will be seriously threatened if gaps and shortcomings remain in disaster risk governance.

The success of sustainable development I surmised will depend on the implementation of risk governance and the effectiveness of executing governance policies. However, most of the countries in the region do not have the ability to deliver the intended governance since diligent monitoring, timely rectification of urgent mitigation measures and effective implementation of pertinent rules and regulations are still relaxed and loose.

The Sendai Framework, which was adopted at the 3rd United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan on 18 March 2015, endorsed a major shift in emphasis from disaster management to disaster risk management. It emphasises the avoidance of creating new risk and
reducing existing levels of risk by taking efforts to eliminate underlying drivers of risk such as non-compliance with building codes, inappropriate land use and destruction of ecosystems. [1]

Habits die hard

Despite the adoption of the Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA) a decade ago and 25 years after UN member states adopted the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, global disaster risk has not been reduced significantly. Even with the HFA’s guidance on managing underlying risk, most countries still practise disaster risk reduction in the management of disasters.

Habits die hard, but the appropriateness of continuing to strengthen disaster preparedness and reduce disaster impacts through pertinent response is suitable to managing disasters yet incongruous in managing the underlying risks. [2]

Most resources continue to be invested in strengthening capacities for disaster management while there has been limited success in applying policies, norms, standards and regulations to manage and reduce risk across development sectors.

Consider, how many countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific region which have dedicated national institutional arrangements for disaster risk management, have undergone legal or policy reforms, established focal points for disaster risk reduction, and created national multi-stakeholder platforms?

How would the most disaster-prone countries move forward with implementing the Sendai Framework and make the switch from disaster management to disaster risk management?

Importance of governance factor

A pertinent aspect in the approach will be the governance factor in the efforts to eliminate or mitigate the impact of underlying drivers of risks such as poor urban planning, non-compliance with building codes, and destruction of ecosystems. However, few countries have a clear framework of what needs to be done for disaster risk governance in the next five years to achieve that goal.

A strategic component in all these efforts and a critical building block is governance or the operationalisation of rules and regulation, and the application of law.

Investments towards improving and strengthening infrastructure, transport and communication systems will go to waste when lack of governance opens wide vulnerabilities to severe damages following disasters.

In effect, the strong political determination required by the HFA to promote and integrate disaster risk reduction into development programming has rarely materialised. The practice of prospective disaster risk management continues to be more symbolic than real. As the HFA comes to a close, it is difficult to identify countries where the strengthening of disaster risk governance has seriously influenced the direction of development.

Many high-income countries managed to reduce their disaster risk through having effective and strong regulatory capacity. On the other hand, many low- and middle-income countries lack the necessary norms and standards for effective regulation and dedicated investments for corrective disaster risk management.

In some cases, governance arrangements adopted rely heavily on specialised emergency management organisations, which are not always appropriate to address disaster risk.

Even the UN Development Programme acknowledges that governance has remained as a key unresolved issue in both the configuration and the reduction of disaster risk.

Need for improved strategies

While many countries support the integration of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation measures into development planning, serious gaps exist.

Many government authorities continue to prioritise emergency response over disaster risk reduction. There is lack of capacity and resources at the subnational level. Moreover, many plans are not being implemented, and legislation goes unenforced. Also, the implementation of law often requires additional capacity and resources. [3]

HFA monitoring and review reveal that increasing focus on disaster risk reduction and developing more sophisticated national DRM policies, frameworks and legislation have not always led to significant quantifiable results. For instance, the Philippines, one of the most disaster-prone countries in Asia, has made a “striking paradigm shift” in disaster risk reduction and management. [4] Indonesia, meanwhile, has made disaster risk reduction a pillar of its national development policy.

Yet, an improved strategy is still limp without improved governance. Oxfam, the international humanitarian group, has stressed the need to address gaps in the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, warning that failure to do so would have direct impact on millions of Filipinos.

Oxfam notes that local disaster risk reduction and management structures are often not functional, community participation has not been maximised and there remains lack of clarity about key governance and funding provisions. [5]

What needs to be done is to place special emphasis on governance and develop a mature disaster risk management culture in development organisations and multi-stakeholder environments.

M.E. Reza has extensive experience in programme management areas dealing with complex emergencies during his tenure of service with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He currently serves in the Regional Advisory Group of the South-East Asia & Pacific desk of SciDev.Net. Reza can be contacted at [email protected]

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.