Why prepare for disaster recovery?
When mega-hurricane Katrina hit the United States 12 years ago, I remember staring in amazement at my TV screen. I couldn’t understand why the country seemed so unprepared to deal with the catastrophe and get back on its feet. Years later, many lessons have been drawn; the number one take away is: “Make every possible effort to reduce risk”; number two “Have a plan and be ready”.
The aftermath of a disaster can be challenging with many stakeholders, competing priorities and limited financial resources. Many questions come to mind:
- How can we ensure that recovery and reconstruction do not lead to an accumulation of new risks and vulnerability?
- How can we balance speed with quality of recovery efforts?
- How can we make sure recovery leaves no one behind and contribute to broader development goals?
Recovery offers a window of opportunity to make the right decisions to reduce future risk and increase resilience. Through the project I coordinate, UNDP, with funding from the Governments of Japan and Luxembourg supports governments and communities across five African countries (Angola, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Niger and Rwanda) to prepare for disaster recovery. In the past three years, countries have reinforced institutional capacity, established supportive policies and guidelines, built partnerships and identified financing mechanisms for recovery. Altogether, these efforts will contribute to timely and effective recovery processes, which support progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
Let me give two concrete examples: when a flood affected the Province of Ingall in Niger last year, national actors who had been trained in post-disaster needs methodology got together, assessed disaster needs and designed a long-term comprehensive recovery plan for affected communities. Prior to the project, it is likely that these same partners would have tried to assist populations individually, making it difficult to bring any initiative to scale in the long term. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts".
In Rwanda, the Government developed Housing Construction Guidelines and rolled them out in communities previously affected by landslides and floods. Villagers built 16 model houses using disaster resilient construction techniques and low-cost local material. Now, these people have the skills to build houses which will withstand future disastrous events. One person said to us: “The flooding washed away our houses and dreams. These safer and resilient houses give us renewed hope”.
In these past few years, people have sometimes told me: “Saying we should prepare to recover from future floods or droughts is scary. We don’t want to be hit once again. We should rather focus on preventing these disasters from ever happening again”. Obviously, we all want to avoid disasters; we do our best to mitigate the risks. But what if they happen? Shouldn’t we also be prepared and ready to recover? Shouldn’t we seize this opportunity to build back better and stronger? To make social services accessible to everyone? To reduce gender inequality or make livelihoods more resilient to future shocks? Can’t we always be climbing higher even against all odds?
We should indeed. This is why UNDP will continue to work with Government partners to support recovery preparedness efforts around the world. Together, we will make sure that the opportunity in recovery is realized.