Our Perspective

Disaster risk reduction

Vanuatu begins rebuilding but faces severe challenges

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Cyclone Pam has passed, but Vanuatu residents will need months, if not years, to recover from its devastation. Photo: Silke von Brockhausen/UNDP

Descending into Vanuatu’s international airport in Port Vila, I could see the devastation Cyclone Pam caused on March 13, sweeping nearly two dozen islands. What used to be a lush green landscape is washed brown by saltwater, trees are dead and uprooted, and houses have lost their roofs.... Read more

Maintaining HIV health services in the wake of disaster

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Commemorating World AIDS Day in Petionville, Haiti. Photo: UNDP/Haiti

In 2010, Haiti suffered an earthquake with devastating consequences.  225,000 people died and 1.5 million people were displaced. There was 10 million cubic meters of debris, 30 of the 49 hospitals in the country were ruined, and 80 percent of schools and 60 percent of the government structures were destroyed.  With very little infrastructure left, the internally displaced people were settled in 1500 camps in the metropolitan areas. What happened to us in Haiti has been referred to as the largest urban disaster in modern history. The humanitarian effort following the earthquake was extraordinary, with much global attention and donor support. However, there was little funding and planning for the HIV response and to address gender-based violence.  These needs had not been integrated into the larger humanitarian work, despite the fact that Haiti has the highest burden of HIV in the Caribbean region. Incidences of rape in the internally displaced camps were high, young people were turning to sex work for economic reasons, and the rates of HIV and TB transmission increased. Haiti had been receiving Global Fund grants since 2003, but the weakened systems and capacities after the earthquake challenged their implementation. UNDP was invited to be the interim Principal... Read more

Building resilience and livelihoods in the aftermath of war

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The UNDP-supported project is working to deliver tangible socio-economic benefits by investing in and restoring ecological infrastructure such as rangelands. Photo: UNDP/Afghanistan

Travelling through Afghanistan, one can see that the country is struggling to recover from 30 years of war. Poverty is especially apparent when you leave Kabul and travel to other parts of the country. UNDP has been in Afghanistan for more than 50 years, working closely with the Afghan government to operate projects across the country’s 34 provinces, but despite significant steps forward, this is a country that faces enormous recovery needs after decades of war, natural disasters and a continuing cycle of violence. After months of preparation, we at UNDP are now starting to implement the “Strengthening the Resilience of Rural Livelihood Options for Afghan Communities” project, the first climate change adaptation project in this country. UNDP is now helping Afghan communities withstand the effects of climate change, and we are focusing on building awareness and planning capacity, as well as demonstrating adaptation activities such as livelihood diversification, resilient water and irrigation infrastructure, and improved agriculture practices. This is a crucial project for poverty reduction in Afghanistan. Sixty percent of the Afghan workforce is employed in agriculture, but climate change impact has been making their lives difficult. Due to prolonged droughts, erratic rainfall and extreme temperatures, the most cultivable land... Read more

Vanuatu: at the apex of climate change, disaster risk reduction, and recovery

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Scenes of the destruction caused by Cyclone Pam. Photo: Shoko Takemoto/UNDP

Early morning, I walked through downtown Port Vila, Vanuatu.  Tropical cyclone Pam certainly left many scars throughout the town: damaged buildings, one-sided trees, destroyed boats, and broken sea walls all silently speak of the immense power of what had swept through the land and the sea on the evening of 13th March 2015. Food security is a concern. The vegetable market at the centre of the town is still closed – there is no fresh produce left anywhere on the islands – and it may take weeks and months before the market will return to colour and life. Climate change and disasters go hand-in-hand in this exposed island nation, and clearly this disaster requires immediate relief. But as I continued walking by the waterfront, passing people, I could not help but notice the friendly smiles and warm good mornings that characterises the charm of the Vanuatu people.   Nambawan Café, a popular outdoor spot for gathering by the waterfront was already open a little before 7am, although it took me a while to notice that it was the same Café because most of the shops and structures around it had changed dramatically. I took the opportunity to speak to the staff... Read more

Building resilience in the face of mounting risks in the Arab Region

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A flood-affected village in Upper Nile State in Sudan. Photo: Fred Noy/UN

Much has been said about the rolling back of development results and vulnerability of communities in parts of the Arab region because of violent conflicts, but less has been said about the increasing changes communities face from natural disasters and risks from climate change. Debates at the recent World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan highlighted that in the 21st century, development will need to be increasingly resilient to shocks and crises, and address the multi-dimensional nature of risk. This holds special relevance to the Arab region, as the most food-import dependent and water-insecure region on the planet today. The Risk Triad: Conflict, Drought, and Climate Change Many communities face the convergence of conflict, and one of the largest mass movements of forced migrants and refugees in modern history, and the exacerbating force of climate change, which brings more frequent and severe droughts, land degradation and food and water insecurity. Out of a population of 357 million, about 150 million in the region are exposed to drought risks. In Somalia, the famine killed between 50,000-100,000 people and displaced 4 million people.  In Syria, the drought of 2006-2010 decimated the livelihoods of more than 20% of the rural population, unleashing... Read more

Managing local level risks for sustainable development

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Jambeshwar Maji, 48, works around the lift irrigation unit. UNDP’s partnership with the Government of Odisha is helping communities in Puri in Odisha adapt to extreme weather events. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/UNDP India

“The most effective disaster and climate risk management focuses on the local level.” As a Disaster Risk Management (DRM) practitioner, I heard this often, and yet only once I worked with communities on the ground did I truly understand the idea’s full import. Working with the GoI-UNDP DRM Programme in India showed me that the most successful and innovative DRM efforts start with communities. The Programme’s bottom-up approach allowed community members to identify their own risk management and climate adaptation needs, formulate local development and disaster management plans, and have these approved by elected village councils/representatives. It was particularly satisfying to note the sense of ownership the people had for the plans. While this might sound both intuitive and easy, I learned that a bottom-up approach requires sustained and continuous engagement with community members. It requires numerous meetings and consultations with a large cross-section of people, including women, the elderly and other traditionally overlooked groups. It requires sharing information and knowledge about successful practices with these communities, while also familiarizing these communities with administrative mechanisms and methods of promoting administration-community collaboration. We used this process in India. After the village/community disaster management plans were approved by the village council, the plans... Read more

Disaster resilience? There’s an app for that.

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Improved technology and disaster communication training supported through UNDP's projects in the Philippines helped local authorities obtain information rapidly and coordinate on a response during emergencies such. Photo: Hari Krishna Nibanupudi for UNDP

Mobile phones are helping revolutionize the way we protect communities from disasters. While more traditional measures, such as earthquake-resilient buildings and early warning broadcasts, will continue to be the hallmark of disaster risk reduction, innovations in technology are offering new ways to strengthen resilience. From simple SMS-style early warning messages to full touch-screen enabled ‘hazard maps,’ mobile technologies connect users to real-time disaster info. These innovations provide new ways of sharing life-saving information, but also help ‘crowd-source’ disaster info, allowing users to receive and update hazard-related information in real-time. Such technology has already had impressive results. For example, after the devastating 9.0 earthquake struck the coast of Japan in 2011, 120,000 residents in the Philippines’ exposed coastal communities received warnings of a possible tsunami on their mobile phones. While the tsunami fortunately did not materialize in the Philippines, some 150 coastal districts were nonetheless successfully evacuated. Countries around the world are using technology to raise awareness about disaster threats and create cultures of action. In Uzbekistan, UNDP helped create a mobile app in Uzbek and Russian that can transmit emergency information from the Ministry of Emergency Situations to at-risk communities. “It’s really easy to use,” says Vasko Popovski, UNDP’s Project Manager... Read more

Why Sendai is important for Africa

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UNDP IS HELPING RWANDA BOOST RESILIENCE TO DISASTERS AND THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE. PHOTO: UNDP RWANDA

This week the world will gather in Sendai, Japan, to mark the end of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) and the beginning of a new global framework on disaster risk reduction (DRR). Sendai is a golden opportunity for Africa to engage meaningfully in the debate and be heard in the light of its current economic transformation. Africa has seven of the top ten fastest growing economies— that growth, if not well managed, will likely contribute to new risks, including the potentially negative fallout from rapid urbanization and industrialization, the intensive use of natural resources and the degradation of ecosystems. One of the biggest achievements of the HFA in Africa has been raising awareness on disaster risk. It has been a tremendous vehicle for engaging African governments, sub-regional and regional institutions on DRR, and an important addition to Africa’s development agenda. The HFA has helped many African nations adopt legislation and shape institutional arrangements that include DRR. Yet, while considerable progress has been made over the last decade, the continent is still facing many challenges. The Horn of Africa and the Sahel region are continuously under threat of drought. Floods annually affect many cities and rural areas, with huge socio-economic impacts... Read more

Inside UNDP: Fides Borja

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Fides Borja with her colleagues and volunteers during Typhoon Ruby Response Operations at the Office of Civil Defense Operations Center.

1. Who are you? I’m Fides Barbara B. Borja, from UNDP in the Philippines.   Growing up, my parents taught us the value of hard work.  I have always dreamt of working in an international organization such as the UNDP, contributing and making a difference. 2. What do you do for work? I provide technical assistance to the Civil Defense Administrator in his role as the Executive Director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).  I assist the Philippine government in preparing for high-level international and regional conferences, including the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation 2015.  I also provide technical assistance for the review of the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 and Framework and Plan.  It is an exciting and challenging task because it includes inter-agency coordination as well as policy review of existing issuances and regulations.  I get to experience how the DRRM theories and principles are applied on the ground.      3. How long have you worked for UNDP? How did you end up working for UNDP?  Where were you before? I have been working for UNDP since May 2014.  After Typhoon Yolanda struck the... Read more

Haiti: What does it take to transition from humanitarian needs to long-term development?

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Haitians set up impromtu tent cities through the capital after an earthquake measuring 7 plus on the Richter scale rocked Port au Prince in 2010. Photo: Logan Abassi/UN

Haiti has come a long way since the earthquake shook the country five years ago. In spite of the immense challenges, Haiti has made notable progress in health and education, as the Government of Haiti-UNDP Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Report shows. Today the country also has a more risk-informed approach to development, with more retaining walls, safer housing, and simulation exercises for better preparedness. National efforts, supported by both humanitarian and development assistance, have clearly made an impact. But a much bigger impact is needed.   Prior to the earthquake, there were several grave development challenges, including poverty (which today stands at 60 percent of the population). Building standards were poor and houses were built in risk prone areas. With such fragility, the consequences of a small earthquake would be dreadful.   But instead, a huge earthquake struck one of the most vulnerable areas—and hit the poorest hardest. Haiti can prevent future tragedies.  This entails working on priority issues such as education, health, employment, social protection, environment and, importantly, climate change and disaster resilience. This week, the Government of Haiti, the United Nations and partners launched a Transitional Appeal (TAP) seeking US$401 million for the next two years, focusing on boosting resilience... Read more

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