In search of practical solutions and partnerships for Disaster Risk Reduction in Developing Nations

Michael Clark is a Resilience Consultant at RAB and recently contributed to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) regional platform for Africa and the Arab states held in Tunis. He reports on the search for solutions to disaster risk reduction.

While the welcome was warm and hospitable from our Tunisian hosts, the conference was set against the backdrop of tragic events in the country in late September. Heavy rain and flash flooding had killed 5 people in the Cap Bon Peninsula, destroying homes, property and livelihoods in its midst. Sadly, these scenes were repeated shortly after the UNISDR platform, with further flash floods killing 5 people in Bizerte and Nabeul during mid-October.

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Search and Rescue team members try to pull a bus in the flood water caused by heavy rainfall in the Bu Salim district of Jendouba City of Tunisia. Source: Floodlist

The floods in Tunisia are a stark reminder of the potential catastrophic impact of natural hazards such as flooding, coupled with the onset of climate change. It is mitigating the impact of tragic events such as these that motivates our work to enhance flood resilience around the world.

It is no surprise that flooding is listed as the most significant natural hazard across both African and Arab nations. It causes billions of dollars in economic losses, claiming the lives of thousands of people across the regions every year.

Last year I reported from both Ghana and Nigeria on the work that is being done to reduce disaster risk and enhance flood resilience. The impressive new flood early warning system used by NADMO in Ghana and the investment in flood resilience across states Nigeria from NGOs, supported at the federal level by NEMA, both serve to highlight the positive steps that are being taken.

One of the great benefits to come out of the UNISDR platform was exploring the role of the private sector in supporting these efforts as partners. Taking part in a round table discussion with representatives from the disaster management community, NGOs and private organisations, there was acknowledgement of the great work the private sector does post disaster, in response and recovery. It was evident from our discussion that there is also an appetite for the private sector to support disaster risk reduction efforts alongside existing actors.

Of course, that is far easier said than done, particularly when the concept of disaster risk reduction can seem complex and somewhat vague. Perhaps the best way to explain DRR is through this equation – yes, algebra is useful in the real world! While there are other iterations, the version below illustrates the point in terminology we now and use regularly.

Equation

In the equation above, the hazard is fixed, there’s not a great deal we can to prevent natural hazards occurring altogether, most of the time. However, there are still things we can do if we want to make our disaster risk smaller. We can alter our level of vulnerability and our level of preparedness as these are not fixed. By reducing our vulnerability or by increasing our level of preparedness, we can reduce our overall level of disaster risk. This is the first step in helping us understand what DRR is – it’s about continually reducing our vulnerability and increasing our level of preparedness. As the private sector, we can take a significant role in that.

To take this a step further, the UNISDR frequently talk about ‘disaster risk reduction for resilience’ . Which is simply another way of saying that we become more resilient by continually reducing our vulnerability and improving our preparedness – but you all knew that already. When we put these terms into language we all use on a day to day basis, the whole concept seems far less alien and we start to see how the field opens up to a more diverse range of actors.

To reduce vulnerability, we consider planning policy, development regulation and land use – where we build, how we build and what we build with – all spheres of great interest to private enterprise. To increase our preparedness, we plan for emergencies, train our communities, up-skill professional responders to implement these plans and exercise to validate it’s all going to work properly when it’s supposed to. As a topical example, using our technical knowledge to improve capability in flood forecasting and developing early warning systems all serve to enhance our level of preparedness and therefore our resilience.

When we understand DRR in this way, it serves to further enforce the value of the platform, as it was a great opportunity to highlight the work that we do in flood forecasting and early warning, training and exercising. There is clearly a desire amongst DRR practitioners at national and regional level as well as among NGOs, to engage with the private sector and utilise the skills that exist. As is often the case for sustainable development initiatives, funding is a challenge. Not so much its lack of existence, but more it’s visibility and eligibility criteria.

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The Africa-Arab Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction themed “Towards Disaster Risk Informed and inclusive sustainable development” 09 to 13 October 2018, Tunis, Tunisia.

Success might look like the third sector and private enterprise partnering to deliver more sustainable projects, sharing knowledge, sharing intelligence and partnering to deliver more effective projects. The presence of private enterprise can enhance the supply of specialist technical support and the role of both international and local delivery NGOs goes a long way to ensuring sustainability. If we are willing to look to new and innovative partnerships, then the prospects for securing new means of funding become greater and the number of beneficiaries of DRR in the developing world grow ever wider.

 

Resilience through disaster risk reduction in Nigeria

In April, Michael Clark reported on work to improve disaster management in Ghana. This month he reports on a new project in disaster risk reduction in Nigeria.

Way back in January 2005, with the world still in shock following the devastating Indian Ocean earthquake & tsunami and with the horrors of Hurricane Katrina still 8 months away, the United Nations was setting out how we would go about making the world safer from natural disasters – it’s timing could not have been more significant.

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The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Picture credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images via CNN.com

The 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) was the first time a global plan had been developed to detail the work required from stakeholders across the public, private and charitable sectors to reduce disaster risk. Thanks to the HFA, governments, intergovernmental agencies, international and national NGOs, disaster experts and at-risk communities were starting to work together to coordinate their preparation for disasters.

The HFA was the first significant step taken towards placing an emphasis on mitigating and preparing for disasters; the essence of resilience. It moved away from the traditional disaster management methodology – simply focussed on dealing with the aftermath; response and recovery. The subsequent Sendai Framework built on this and placed an even greater emphasis on mitigation and preparation through disaster risk reduction. It is the Sendai Framework that will shape how we go about disaster management and building resilience up until 2030.

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The seven global targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction

In many facets, the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is seen to be a regional spearhead in disaster management across West Africa. The scale and scope of the hazards experienced across Africa’s most populous nation are vast – from flooding to oil spills and infectious disease outbreaks to an Islamist insurgency, the demands placed upon NEMA are significant.

The ongoing Afri-Gate project, which is led by the Bournemouth University’s Disaster Management Centre (BUDMC) and supported by RAB Consultants aims to support the growth of disaster risk reduction and resilience across West Africa. Much like my work in Ghana, the initial phase of the project sought to identify where there are challenges for disaster management and disaster managers in Nigeria in their attempts to improve disaster risk reduction.

I spent 5 days in the federal capital of Abuja, working closely with NEMA’s senior team to understand the disaster management structure and the strategic direction of the agency. Despite being in its infancy, a dedicated department to advocate and coordinate disaster risk reduction efforts across the country has ensured that Nigeria is making huge strides in the right direction.

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Michael Clark is a resilience consultant who has worked across West Africa over the last 7 years. He is pictured at NEMA Headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria.

Despite the best efforts of NEMA, recent flooding events in Oyo State have highlighted the challenges faced by the agency in their promotion of disaster risk reduction. Dredging operations undertaken by the state government to reduce the risk of flooding are being negated by the persistence of communities building homes on water courses. This is one of the areas that the Afri-Gate project will continue to explore as we investigate how NEMA can better engage communities to highlight the importance of disaster risk reduction.

The Afri-Gate project continues to grow in its impact and significance across West Africa.

Improving Disaster Management in Ghana

Michael Clark, Assistant Resilience Consultant from RAB, reports on efforts being made to improve disaster management in the West African country of Ghana.

In June 2015, significant flooding in Ghana led to the loss of many lives in Accra.  Four days of rainfall across the region resulted in many parts of the town being inundated by flood waters.  The flooding followed 185mm of rain in a single day – more than the average rainfall for the month.

Reports on the scale of the disaster state that Ghana’s Fire Service reported that a fire started at a bus station and then spread to a nearby gas station, causing an explosion which killed many people taking refuge from the flooding.

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Flooding in Accra, Ghana (Source: Africa Media Agency)

Since then, the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) have been taking steps to reduce the risk of future flooding.  Actions include educating members of the public about responding to the potential threat of flooding and removal of illegal structures built within waterways which had a key role in the 2015 floods.

Afri-Gate is a project led by the Bournemouth University Disaster Management Centre (BUDMC) and supported by RAB Consultants that aims to build resilience to both natural and man-made disasters in West Africa.  The initial phase of the project is currently identifying where there are challenges for disaster management in Ghana and will direct the second phase of the project which seeks to address how to manage and build the resilience of communities to a broad range of hazards including flooding.

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Accra to understand the disaster management and resilience structure in Ghana. I witnessed first-hand the huge strides being made by NADMO in establishing a robust disaster management structure and the credible steps taken towards more focus on disaster risk reduction through the establishment of a flood early warning system.

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Michael Clark is a Resilience Consultant with RAB in Durham.  Michael has worked in international development and was previously based in the city of Kumasi for five years with Thrive Africa.

It is anticipated that the first phase of the Afri-Gate project will conclude with a series of workshops later in 2017 where I’ll return to Accra along with colleagues from the research team at BUDMC in support of improved flood and disaster risk management.