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

Inside UNDP: Iman Al Husseini

09 Feb 2015 by Iman Al Husseini, Programme Specialist, UNDP Gaza

Iman Husseini with AdministratorIman Husseini briefing the Administrator, during her visit in February 2014, on infrastructure projects in Gaza. Photo: UNDP/PAPP
1. Who are you? I was raised with my two brothers in Kuwait. My father used to tell me when I was young: ”Since you are in the middle of your brothers you are the best, as the best bead in the necklace is always in the middle.” My family was a great support and driving force for me in my career. It is part of my nature to always challenge myself. 2. What do you do for work? I am a Programme Specialist at the UNDP Gaza Office, heading the infrastructure team that implements a variety of projects in sectors such as housing, water, sewage, job creation, energy, health, and education. 3. Where were you before? I started my career as an assistant site engineer at a large consultancy office in Kuwait.  As a woman, I was not used to climbing walls or trees or walking on wood beams in construction sites.  Being one of five pioneer female engineers working for the company, the resident engineer was counting on my failure to leave the site.  I took up the challenge, killed my fears, and trained myself with the site supervisor’s help. Upon my return to Gaza, I joined UNRWA in … 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

Building on the Pacific’s culture of resilience

05 Feb 2015 by Kevin Petrini, Regional Climate Change Specialist, the Pacific

  In Samoa, the problem of coastal erosion and inundation directly impacts people’s livelihood. (Photo: Joe Hitchcock and Luke McPake for UNDP)
When I first arrived in Samoa in 1998, I lived on the larger, less populated and more traditional island of Savaii, where things were ordered and everyone filled a very particular role. For example, to build a canoe, I first needed to find a tree, get permission from a local chief and go to the plantation to cut it down. Then a canoe builder for that area was commissioned and a small dedication ceremony was required before the canoe went to sea. Over time I came to understand the organization of life in Savaii, and how that organization was, in fact, the community’s foundation for resilience. After a cyclone, for example, the community sends young men to gather the fallen coconut for safe drinking water and specific root crops that heavy winds have not damaged. In my 13 years working on climate change and disaster risk management in the Pacific, I have learned that the foundation of resilience for these communities is their culture and way of life. Unlike many in international community, who see climate change and disaster risk management as two separate issues, these communities experience them as a single issue that reaches across all aspects of life. The … Read more

Bigger cities don’t have to mean bigger risks

29 Jan 2015 by Zubair Murshed, Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Adviser, Arab States

Sehwan Sharif cityAn aerial view of the city of Sehwan Sharif in Pakistan's southern Sindh Province, which was heavily affected by countrywide flooding in 2010. (Photo: Amjad Jamal/UN)
The majority of the world’s population is urban, and it’s easy to understand why: Urban settings often offer better economic opportunities and better access to essential services (such as healthcare and education), as well as a wider variety of entertainment and leisure options. But urban environments are also uniquely vulnerable to disasters. Many towns, cities, and urban sprawls stand in coastal zones, on riverbanks, or in mountains– settings that are exposed to geological and hydro-meteorological hazards like earthquakes, storm surges, and cyclones. In addition, rapid urbanization often brings poor land use planning, unsafe construction practices, and damage to natural resources (like waterways and mangroves). Urban centers can suffer from ‘intensive risk,’ because a large number of people, facilities, services, and assets are condensed in one place and at risk of substantial losses and damages from a disaster. As the world becomes more and more urbanized, urban risk reduction becomes more and more of a necessity. The post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction, which will emerge at the upcoming UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, can help elevate this concern at the highest levels and push for disaster risk reduction to be built into urban planning and development. … Read more

What can be done to ensure global agreements include and are relevant to Small Island Developing States?

26 Jan 2015 by Magdy Martínez-Solimán, Director, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support

 New irrigation methods revive farming in a Comorian village. (Photo: UNDP)
Today the United Nations and observers marked the official closing of the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), a reflection of a global agreement by governments to put these countries, small dots as they are on a global map, in the spotlight for all to see their development challenges and realities in the 21st Century. In this year, 2015, when so many global development processes are coming to a head, including efforts to define and mobilize financing for development, agree a new disaster risk reduction framework in Sendai, and adopt the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, as well as a new climate change agreement in Paris under the UNFCCCC, the question to be asked is for SIDS is, what can be done to ensure that these global agreements include, and are relevant to SIDS, their size, circumstances and capacities? These countries, which represent over one-quarter of the UN membership, together with their many partners, gathered in Samoa last September for the Third International Conference on SIDS, a once-in-a-decade opportunity, to present their aspirations for the future.  The voices of islanders are a clarion call to the international community: addressing their sustainable development needs goes hand in hand … Read more

How can we save the world’s forests?

23 Jan 2015 by Helen Clark, Administrator, UNDP

 Clearing forests is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Borjomi Forest in Georgia. Photo: UNDP
The crucial role of forests in tackling climate change is high on the agenda this week at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Conserving the world’s forests is critical to climate change mitigation. While forests absorb carbon dioxide, when cleared or degraded they become a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Over 13 million hectares of forests are still being cleared each year. That’s an area around three times the size of Switzerland. This destruction is contributing up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and threatens our common future. With a global climate agreement scheduled to be finalised at the Paris Climate Conference at the end of the year, keeping up the momentum on forest conservation is essential. We also need to maintain and build upon the progress made last year, including at the UN Climate Summit in New York hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in September, in the COP 20 “Lima Call to Action,” and through the deforestation-free supply chain commitments made by many corporations. I was proud to be involved in the Climate Summit’s forests action area, which UNDP facilitated and which saw the launch of the New York Declaration on Forests (PDF). This process … Read more

Inside UNDP: Lionel Laurens

19 Jan 2015 by Lionel Laurens, Ebola Virus Disease Immediate Response Coordinator, UNDP, Sierra Leone

 Lionel in Freetown.
Lionel Laurens, from France, is a development practitioner who has worked for UNDP for 10 years. He’s driven by a desire to contribute to a more equal world by working with people to be in control of their own development in their own environment. … Read more

Adaptation and attitude are two keys to crisis response

13 Jan 2015 by Lionel Laurens, Ebola Virus Disease Immediate Response Coordinator, Sierra Leone

 Sierra Leone has begun to use new, environmentally-friendly sterilizing equipment to help dispose of the vast amounts of contaminated protective equipment and infectious waste generated in treating Ebola patients. (Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP)
I came to Sierra Leone in July 2014 on a temporary assignment as Area Based Development (ABD) Advisor, but when I arrived the Ebola outbreak had reached an unprecedented scale and the delivery of UNDP’s regular programmes was low priority.  UNDP, as a development agency, was not seen as particularly relevant or equipped to deal with a humanitarian crisis.  But UNDP had programmable resources, a strong network of relationships with government and other stakeholders, and a strong desire amongst the staff to help their communities confront Ebola.   A lot of my work at UNDP has been developing and implementing programmes in creative ways and having that experience helped during the Ebola crisis.  I helped the Country Office to reprioritize our activities in innovative ways to respond to the crisis. We reached out to our partners and marginalized groups to identify useful interventions that were in dire need. We then reprogrammed UNDP’s work to build on our existing programmes and relationships to address key issues for those not yet reached by existing prevention activities. As a result of this we have been able to: Work in partnership with local partner NGOs and government to train 300 volunteers and communities on Ebola … Read more