Climate action to tackle hurricanes

13 Oct 2017 by Mario Peiró, Climate Change and Environment Technical Assistant, UNDP Dominican Republic

A fallen tree blocking a road in Dominican RepublicRecent hurricanes affected up to 20 thousand dwellings in Dominica, housing for approximately 80 percent of the country’s population. UNDP photo
“To deny climate change is to deny a truth we have just lived.” With these words, delivered at the UN General Assembly on 23 September, the Prime Minister of Dominica alluded to the situation in his country in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and María. Four hurricanes rated category 3 or higher, including Irma, with maximum winds of up to 295 km per hour, have travelled the Atlantic in as little as six weeks, and experts warn of the possibility of more such events during this cyclone season. … Read more

From the eyes of an early responder in Sierra Leone

28 Aug 2017 by Tanzila Watta Sankoh, Programme Specialist, UNDP Sierra Leone

A man speaking into a megaphone Realizing that the lack of basic tools was hampering relief efforts, UNDP provided shovels, megaphones and pickaxes to help with the search and rescue. Photo: Alpha Sesay/UNDP Sierra LeoneRealizing that the lack of basic tools was hampering relief efforts, UNDP provided shovels, megaphones and pickaxes to help with search and rescue. Photo: Alpha Sesay/UNDP in SIerra Leone
On 14 August, my phone starting ringing … It was my mother. She resides at Regent, a community on the slopes of Mount Sugar Loaf, the conical peak overlooking Freetown. Being at the epicentre of the catastrophic flash flood and landslides, she saw the disaster unfold and immediately called me, confirming my foreboding about receiving early morning calls from my mother. When I arrived at the scene with UNDP colleagues in charge of disaster management and a few staff members from the Office of National Security (ONS), I was utterly shocked by the scene of devastation. It was raining incessantly. The sky was gloomy, and one of Freetown’s highest mountains looked like it had been cracked in two. The landslides had claimed the lives of more than 400 people, leaving over 2,000 homeless and an estimated 600 still trapped in the debris. I had never seen such desolation in my entire life. As we moved on, we saw ambulances carrying corpses and youth volunteers desperately working in the hope of rescuing survivors. We also saw people's resilience, of the kind we had already witnessed during the Ebola epidemic. They dug through the mud with bare hands to rescue their loved ones. … Read more

Why prepare for disaster recovery?

08 Jun 2017 by Lucile Gingembre, Project Coordinator, Preparedness for Disaster Recovery, UNDP Africa Regional Centre

Families carry personal belonging away from flooded areas in Niamey, Niger: National actors who are trained in post-disaster needs methodology can get together, assess disaster needs and design a long-term comprehensive recovery plan for affected communities. Photo: OCHA/Franck Kuwonu.
When mega-hurricane Katrina hit the US twelve 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: … Read more

How can we 'fix' disaster recovery?

07 Jun 2017 by Jo Scheuer, Director, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, UNDP and Francis Ghesquiere, Head of the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction (GFDRR), World Bank

Disaster risk reductionIt is critical that disaster-prone countries establish the necessary institutional, policy and budgetary arrangements before a disaster occurs, while also strengthening their capacity for coordination and implementation. Photo: Andrea Ruffini/UNDP
Deficient recovery is imperiling sustainable development, and leaving millions of the most vulnerable behind. The link between poverty and disasters is becoming clearer – new research shows that extreme weather events alone are pushing up to 26 million people into poverty every year. With forces like climate change, urban expansion, and population growth driving this trend, annual losses have passed more than $500 billion annually, and show no signs of slowing. With limited time and resources, however, adequate preparedness for these common events is often neglected in developing countries. The result is a pattern of deficient recovery that is imperiling sustainable development, and leaving millions of the most vulnerable behind. … Read more

Oceans of data, islands of databases

08 May 2017 by Sanny Jegillos, Senior Advisor, Disaster Risk Reduction, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub

Man in his shopRisk-informed recovery programmes respond to the unique development challenges of island countries like Vanuatu, which was hit by Cyclone Pam in March 2016. UNDP Photo
I am currently in the Solomon Islands, on my second mission in the Pacific Islands this year, and I am now certain that I will be back in Papua New Guinea in less than a month. Since Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu and Cyclone Winston in Fiji (2015/2016), my engagement as UNDP advisor on disaster risk reduction and recovery in the Pacific has increased. For UNDP colleagues based in the Pacific, I hear that there has not been any pause in crisis response since 2014. What does this trend mean? What do we foresee in the future? Where do we get the information to guide our organization’s strategy and programmes? … Read more

Protecting the rights of people affected by disasters

04 May 2017 by María del Carmen Sacasa, UNDP Resident Representative, Peru

In addition to saving lives, the response to the flooding in Peru must seek to promote the active participation of people affected by the disaster. Photo: Mónica Suárez Galindo/UNDP Peru
In the past few weeks we have witnessed the devastating consequences of intense rains and landslides in Peru, affecting thousands of people. In counterpoint to the tragedy, the situation has also presented a unique opportunity to bring the country together. In the best-case scenario, we can demonstrate to Peruvians and to the world that it is possible to emerge from difficulty through solidarity. This means uniting different levels of government, politicians, civil society, people of all ages and the international community behind a common purpose: helping people recover. … Read more

A year after the Ecuador earthquake, we still have work to do

17 Apr 2017 by Nury Bermúdez, Emergency Response, Risk Management and Livelihoods Officer, UNDP Ecuador

With UNDP support, 2,600 families have resumed agricultural production in rural areas of Manabí and Esmeraldas, generating average increases of 50 percent in sales. Photo: Gabriela Ullauri/UNDP
It only took 40 seconds to unleash decades of pent up vulnerability in Ecuador. Substandard buildings, additional stories built unofficially, shoddy building materials—they all took their toll on 16 April 2016. With 671 deaths and over 241,000 people affected, it was unquestionably one of Ecuador’s biggest emergencies in decades. The country’s emergency response capabilities were overwhelmed, making clear the need to strengthen preparedness, prevention and recovery for dealing with large-scale adverse events. In the face of this situation, a national and international solidarity network activated to provide aid and relief during the emergency. Government agencies responded on multiple fronts in regions needing immediate aid. Different protocols and mechanisms were created and put to the test during the emergency. … Read more

Why we can hope for better crisis response in 2017

17 Jan 2017 by Izumi Nakamitsu, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator, Crisis Response Unit Leader

The U.N. and its NGO partners have begun hammering out the details of how to “bridge the divide” between humanitarian, development and peace-building actors. Photo: UNDP
Despite the horror of 2016, in Syria, Yemen, Lake Chad Basin and many other areas, I remain hopeful that the international community will deliver on its big promises to change the way it works. Stubbornly clinging to hope is essential after this year. But I also have seen the clear foundations for change being laid. In 2016, I was involved in several historic summits held in response to the unprecedented humanitarian crises we are facing. I led the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) preparations for the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul in May. I’m now working with the World Bank, governments and other partners to implement some of the commitments from those meetings, including rolling out a new way of working in crises that will not only meet humanitarian needs, but also reduce them over time. This means setting shared goals, developing multi-year plans and taking other steps to bridge the divide between development, humanitarian and peace-building actors. I also attended the U.N. Summit for Refugees and Migrants and, with U.N.colleagues, I’m now helping to implement parts of the agreement reached at the summit, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which includes a commitment to better coordinate efforts to address the root causes of refugee flight. … Read more

Resilient people and institutions: Ecuador’s post-earthquake challenge

12 Dec 2016 by Carlo Ruiz, Recovery Unit Coordinator, UNDP Ecuador

Resilient people and institutions: Ecuador’s post-earthquake challengeIn the wake of the April 2016 earthquake, UNDP has trained hundreds of homeowners on the principles of earthquake-resistant construction. Photo: UNDP Ecuador
No one is really prepared for an emergency until they’ve had to live through one. And the 16 April earthquake in Ecuador put us to the test. With the drawdown in the humanitarian response phase that is providing relief to survivors and victims, the hustle and bustle is dying down. Remnants of the disaster can be seen everywhere, and an idea of what the near future will bring and people’s resilience – their capacity to cope – is taking shape. During tours of the affected areas, I saw that people have, to a greater or lesser extent, a natural conviction that pushes them to overcome the situation they are in. Shortly after a catastrophe hits, whether from the need to survive or from attempts to recover the normality that has been ripped from them, men and women begin to help each other out. They get together and cook, and they care for, console and support each other. In places such as Pedernales, one of the hardest hit areas, just days following the tragedy, people had set up cooking hearths and places to prepare food to sell outside destroyed businesses. They organized games of ecuavoley (Ecuadorian-style volleyball) in streets where rubble was still being cleared. Disasters hit poor people the hardest. This is why it is crucial to work on recovery of livelihoods starting in the emergency response period. People who can manage to earn a living can overcome the psychological impact of adversity more quickly. This has been a key factor in the post-earthquake process in Ecuador. The institutional structure is another element that affects how fast communities recover. Having a response system, with mechanisms to quickly and strategically identify needs, makes recovery efforts more effective. Communities are more vulnerable if local authorities are absent and exercise less authority to ensure, among other things, compliance with building and land-use standards. … Read more

A changing climate throws water out of balance in Asia and the Pacific

03 Nov 2016 by Gordon Johnson, Resilience and Sustainability Team Leader, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub

With a warming climate in parts of the Himalayas, melting glaciers are feeding into glacial lakes that threaten to burst at the seams. UNDP photo
Every morning I jump on the Chao Phraya Express Boat to get to work. It’s a short trip, but on yet another sultry morning in Bangkok, it’s nice to feel the breeze as we slice through the muddy waters to Thewet Pier, a short walk from my office at the United Nations. As we churn upriver, I’m often reminded of the suggestion that our planet should have been named Water instead of Earth. Nowhere is this idea more true than in Asia and the Pacific. While some 4.5 billion people make their homes on solid ground here – about 60 percent of the world’s population – it’s also home to the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and dozens of major river basins (such as the Indus, Ganges, Mekong and Yangtze) that gave rise to the varied and colourful cultures of Asia. … Read more