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.
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.
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.
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.