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

13 Mar 2015 by Sophie de Caen, Senior Country Director, Haiti

 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

On the road to Sendai, UNDP draws on 10 years of experience

09 Mar 2015 by Jan Kellett, Disaster and Climate Change Advisor, Bureau of Policy and Programme Support

DRR training in KazakhstanWith UNDP support, first aid and emergency response trainings are part of Kazakhstan's comprehensive disaster risk reduction and management strategy. Photo: UNDP in Kazakhstan
Over the last 8-months I attended negotiations to agree on a successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action a 10-year plan to make the world safer from disasters. The clear message I've taken from this is that it’s time to shift attention away from rhetoric and advocacy, and towards concrete, country-level action. Making this happen means accepting the fact that disaster risk reduction (DRR) is one and the same as development. And doing risk reduction right means doing development right. Put simply – we might not stop the storm, but we can stop the storm from destroying lives and livelihoods if we build the right houses, in the right places, with the right materials. We are well aware of this fact at UNDP, and have used to it guide our efforts.  Over the last 10 years we’ve been in the trenches with our country level partners and have done everything from passing laws to improving building codes. What we’ve learned in the process is that everything is connected:  law, training, building, it’s all one long thread of risk-informed development. Our new infographic report highlights this and the numbers speak for themselves: We invested at least US$1.7 billion—as much as US$200 a … Read more

Women have a role in Disaster Risk Reduction

08 Mar 2015 by Rebecca Zorn, Disaster Risk Management Specialist, UNDP Lao PDR

Disaster Management Committee members Syphom Village Disaster Management Committee members stand in front of the market that burned down (and has since been completely rebuilt). Photo: UNDP in Lao PDR
Women are a vital piece of the planning process for disaster risk mitigation and response, enhancing disaster planning with different perspectives that often focus on community needs and vulnerable groups. As a Disaster Risk Management Specialist for UNDP Lao PDR, I spent 13 months training district and provincial government officials in community based disaster risk reduction.  In a nation where 80 per cent of the population is dependent on subsistence agriculture for survival, natural disasters cause loss of lives, income and communal assets, and destroy livelihoods.  Extreme recurrent disasters consistently take their toll. The Village Disaster Management Committee (VDMC) is the result of community-led, local disaster risk management systems implemented by UNDP’s Integrated Disaster and Climate Risk Management Project and the Government of Lao PDR.  The goal of the committee is to spread disaster preparedness information, create a functioning early warning system, and plan activities that could reduce disaster risk. Women play an important role in the process. We’ve noticed that many women in our VDMCs are especially proactive. They understand the consequences disasters have on their villages and the potential long term impacts, and they really want to make a difference for the future of their children and their communities. … Read more

Why is disaster risk governance so essential?

05 Mar 2015 by Angelika Planitz, Disaster and Climate Risk Governance Advisor

In Nepal, UNDP's Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme includes initiatives such as the training of first responder including rope-climbing for emergency response and search and rescue volunteers in flood-prone areas of the country. Photo: UNDP Nepal
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 … Read more

Bringing about the 'Good Change' (together)

04 Mar 2015 by Napoleon Navarro, Deputy Country Director, Programmes, UNDP Cambodia

A woman washes clothes outside her flooded house. Heavy rains in 2013 resulted in floods in 20 provinces throughout the north-west and along the Mekong River in central and southern Cambodia, killing 188 people and affecting more than 1.7 million. Photo: Thomas Cristofoletti/Ruom for UNDP
In the last decade, Cambodia has halved its poverty rate and improved the living conditions of its population. Yet because of extreme climate events that regularly descend on the country, Cambodia remains one of the most disaster-vulnerable countries in Southeast Asia. In 2013 alone, losses caused by floods added up to USD $356 million. Disasters are tragic because of the consequences on human life and well-being, but they also present an opportunity to promote what UNDP now calls “risk-informed development.” Various actors and communities can—and should—work more closely together to create effective, multi-disciplinary approaches to respond to disasters and promote disaster risk reduction.   Take the 2013 floods as an example. A combination of heavy rains and the swelling of the Mekong River caused widespread damage to infrastructure and crops. 168 people died, most of them children, and 20 provinces were devastated, with thousands of hectares of rice destroyed and hundreds of kilometers of rural roads badly damaged. Following the floods, the Cambodian government requested that UNDP work with various partners to carry out a Post Flood Early Recover Needs Assessment. Drawing on the expertise of UNDP’s country office, as well as the skills and knowledge of government partners, NGOs, and … Read more

Reducing poverty and building resilience to climate change in Myanmar’s Dry Zone

03 Mar 2015 by Yusuke Taishi, Regional Specialist, Climate Change Adaptation

 A man fills his water container from the Taung Shae village tube well, in the Dry Zone of Central Myanmar. Photo: UNDP Myanmar
In the undulating plains of the Dry Zone of central Myanmar, the Kingdom of Pagan flourished between the 11th and 13th century, largely thanks to productive agriculture supported by skilled water management techniques. Today, if it were not for the hundreds of pagodas that still remain standing, it would be hard to believe that a Kingdom once prospered here. There is little trace of the rich and fertile agricultural land, extensive canals, and abundant water that once existed in the heart of this now Dry Zone. When I arrived in the village of Taung Shae in the Dry Zone, the popping noise of a diesel pump was reverberating in the air.  A water-less community pond, in disrepair with a cracked bottom, illustrates the importance of water infrastructure for this community. But a villager proudly tells me that their tube well is 250 metres deep and now water is available throughout the year.  He says he collects 300 Myanmar Kyat (about US$0.30) per 200 litres from villagers to maintain the pump. In the village of Sin Loo Ey, villagers were busy with shelling peanuts. They tell me that the harvest is not as good as they hoped this year, but not bad … Read more

Can data better focus risk reduction strategies?

25 Feb 2015 by Rajesh Sharma, Programme Specialist, Disaster Risk Information and Application, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub

flooded area in CambodiaMonsoon rains and tropical storms bring terrible flooding to Cambodia, but lighting strikes rank as the second highest cause of mortality in disaster-related deaths. Photo: OCHA/Andrew Pendleton
It’s widely known that floods are a major cause of mortality in Cambodia. Nearly 53 percent of total disaster-related deaths between 1996 and 2013 were caused by recurring floods. What’s less well-known is that during the same period, 35 percent of disaster-related deaths were due to lightning, the second-highest cause of mortality in Cambodia. Understanding the impacts of disasters, their frequency, intensity and recurrence patterns are key to addressing them systematically. In Cambodia, such analysis has been possible with the use of data provided by CamDi (Cambodia Disaster Loss and Damage database), an online system established by the National Committee of Disaster Management in partnership with UNDP. In July 2014, CamDi, with English and Khmer interface, was launched by the Government of Cambodia and an analytical report was shared with all line ministries and provincial agencies, as well as with the donor community, international non-government organizations and other relevant groups.   I remember my initial consultations and discussions with the government and stakeholders. At the time, we were largely focused on flood-related issues, and lightning, seen as an isolated event, went unmentioned. Exhaustive disaster data collection, however, revealed the team the severity of the impact of lightning on the lives of … Read more

Good governance for disaster recovery

20 Feb 2015 by Jeannette Fernandez Castro, Recovery Specialist, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Team

floods in Cap Haitian, HaitiHeavy rains in Haiti's northern city of Cap Haitian left streets, homes and fields flooded and hundreds of people homeless and up to 15 people dead. Photo: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH
In 2007, when I began my career with UNDP in Ecuador, I thought I knew the ins and outs of disaster recovery. I had the technical background as a civil engineer, researcher and professor of earthquake engineering. A year after starting at UNDP, a major challenge arrived: intense and concentrated rains battered Ecuador’s entire coast for four months. Thirteen provinces were reporting major damage, with some urban centers remaining under water for two months and landslides closing roads and leaving many communities completely isolated. Two percent of the Ecuadorian population was affected, with damages accounting for nearly 2.5 percent of the country’s GDP that year. I received a crash course in the complexity of recovery. Before a single shovel could hit the ground or a brick laid, dozens of meetings and consultations had to be held and dozens of plans formulated. While we had created a recovery strategy based on four pillars (social, productive, infrastructure, and environment and sanitation) and three cross-cutting elements (institutional reform, community participation, and land use and planning), we still had to implement an extremely complex, comprehensive recovery plan: arranging and channeling funding; establishing ad-hoc implementation bodies; putting line ministries and regional development entities in charge of … Read more

Technological hazards: From risk reduction to recovery

11 Feb 2015 by Armen Grigoryan, Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor, Europe and Central Asia

Chernobyl, UkraineChernobyl exclusion zone in the town of Prypiat, Ukraine. Most of the Chernobyl-affected areas suffer from high unemployment and poverty, while residents suffer from victim syndrome, a dependency culture, and lack the information. Photo: UNDP in Ukraine
This past December marked the 30th Anniversary of the Bhopal disaster—3,000 people were killed and another 170,000 injured when a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, leaked chemical substances into the air. Regarded by many as one of history’s worst industrial accidents, Bhopal remains a horrific reminder of risks we continue to face today in an ever-industrializing world. According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, 192 technological disasters were reported worldwide in 2013.  Technological hazards are expected to grow as urbanization and industrialization spread, and as climate change brings increasingly unpredictable threats to technological infrastructure. To date, no global agreement is in place for preventing and preparing for technological disasters. While there are a number of regional and sectoral frameworks, as well as mechanisms and policies to address various types of technological disasters, we lack an overarching framework that is equipped to address the sheer complexity of issues and diversity of actors involved. The post-2015 framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) offers a unique opportunity to address precisely this, and it gives us a real opportunity to strengthen national coordination and legislative frameworks, and to expand the capacities of all stakeholders for all risks, including technological ones. If … Read more

How do we tell the story of Disaster Risk Reduction?

06 Feb 2015 by Carl Mercer, Advocacy, Partnerships and Results Communication, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Team

 Sushma Kandi received a new, stronger home for her and her daughter after the 1999 super-cyclone in Odisha. Photo: Ruhani Kaur/UNDP India.
Capturing the work of disaster risk reduction (DRR) is difficult in the best of times. As in other development fields, jargon has clouded the DRR narrative. Terms like “risk governance,” “resilient recovery” and, my favorite, “comprehensive community based disaster risk management,” have made it a struggle to impress upon non-UN types what it is exactly that we do. This isn't helped by the fact that a lot of what UNDP does is behind the scenes, governance-type work. So many times, after a disaster somewhere, a friend has asked me, "You must be really busy?" Explaining the nuances of pre-disaster DRR can be challenging.  Nuance just isn't an easy sell, and that's the hard truth of our work. Relief agencies can throw bags of food from helicopters and take pictures of it, but what can we do? Snap a picture of the new district disaster management plan?  But while the type of work we do makes communications harder, it doesn’t make it impossible. Our task is to look further down the service line and show how that district plan is helping people on the ground. All of this was very much on my mind as I travelled around south India filming videos … Read more