Why is disaster risk governance so essential?
05 Mar 2015 by Angelika Planitz, Disaster and Climate Risk Governance Advisor
It has come as a bit of a surprise to me that the recent UN negotiations on the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction led to serious discussions among member states about whether the term ‘governance’ should be included in the text. I was particularly surprised given that the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005 – 2015 already included the term, and a big portion of the work at country level these last 10-20 years has focused on strengthening governance arrangements for DRR.
By the 1990s, numerous countries had established dedicated national disaster management authorities—often with the support of UNDP—and devised corresponding policy, legal and planning frameworks, so as to enable DRR action. At the time, I worked for the UN in the Pacific and saw first-hand how the focus was gradually shifting from emergency preparedness and response to disaster risk reduction.
As the understanding of the complex causes of disasters grew, more actors entered the fold, including representatives of academia, NGOs, civil society and local communities. These actors all had a stake in influencing risk levels, and so needed to be a part of the solution. As vulnerability to natural hazards was increasingly understood to be more than just physical or structural—with important social, economic, cultural and environmental aspects—disaster risk reduction evolved to become both more multi-disciplinary and more multi-sectorial.
From the mid-2000s onwards, governance was commonly accepted as the crux of DRR, with comprehensive efforts underway to increase the DRR capacity of national and local institutions; to strengthen policy, legal and planning frameworks; to develop human and financial capacities; and to promote multi-stakeholder and multi-disciplinary approaches.
So what has changed between then and now that has led member states to red-flag the term ‘governance’?
A possible answer may be linked to the growing emphasis of the disaster risk governance discourse on more sensitive aspects of: accountability for risk creation/reduction; transparency of risk information; responsiveness to the needs of those most at risk; and ensuring the rule of law/compliance of legal provisions. These are elements essential to any governance arrangement and are equally crucial in disaster risk governance. Traditionally, however, they have received less attention in the established DRR practice—presumably because they bear much greater political potential (which could explain the caution of some member states in going that route). The evidence from our UNDP programme portfolio, however, shows unmistakably that it is precisely these less tangible aspects of risk governance that determine the success of any DRR intervention.
An example from Mozambique comes to mind. A training event was held in Maputo on mainstreaming disaster reduction and adaption into development. During a session I facilitated on disaster risk governance, a government representative described a municipal initiative in his city to provide building licenses for new developments along a mangrove forest. Although well intentioned, the licenses encouraged construction on lands highly prone to flooding, increasing the risk of inundations and jeopardizing the livelihoods of nearby communities. This could have been prevented if natural hazard risks and the knowledge of community representatives had been considered at the planning stage; in other words, it could have been prevented if risk governance arrangements had been in place to ensure transparency, participation and accountability.
No matter what the cause of the ongoing row around ‘governance’ in the run-up to the World Conference on DRR in Sendai, we need to keep governance central in the HFA successor agreement. This is a lesson we have learned, and the successes of our work in places like Armenia, Indonesia and Mozambique speak for themselves: comprehensive DRR needs to be embedded in the wider governance arrangements.
The new global DRR framework offers a historic opportunity to recognize the importance of risk governance and the related processes that are so elementary for securing the long-term sustainability of both disaster risk reduction and development outcomes. Let us seize this moment, not squander it!