COVID-19; an opportunity to re-think disaster risk governance

October 13, 2020


Held each October 13, the world commemorates the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction – designated 28 years ago by the United Nations General Assembly – to promote actions aimed at preventing, mitigating, responding, and recovering from the impacts of disasters on people's lives and well-being, resulting in increasingly resilient communities and nations, better prepared to face crises.

This year’s theme #ItsAllAboutGovernance” is inviting us to reflect on the issues related to disaster risk governance, focusing on one of the seven global goals of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015- 2030, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Today this issue is more relevant than ever, and the role of society and governance structures are essential to reduce the levels of impact of crises and achieve a sustainable recovery. 

According to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, between 1990 and 2017, 408 disasters associated with natural hazards occurred in the Caribbean, an average of 14.6 per year. There were disasters recorded every year during that period, but the highest incidence occurred in 2004 and 2017 which saw  30 and 29 disasters, respectively. The countries that suffered the highest number of disasters were Haiti (90), the Dominican Republic (59), and Cuba (53).

Currently, the Dominican Republic, in addition to COVID-19, must face another challenge: the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. This island is among the most fragile in the world to climate change and, due to the pandemic, its economy is being greatly affected by the loss of tourism, which represents 7.4 percent of the country's direct employment and is an economic activity which shows a greater sector contribution: for every one percent contraction in tourism, the production of activities linked to the sector is reduced by 0.38 percent.

This was the case with the recent storm Laura, that  displaced more than 9,000 people and left more than 700,000 people without electricity, at a time when most of the population is under lockdown. Citizens were already suffering the social and economic impact of the pandemic while absorbing the effects of climate change and severe weather.

The effects of disasters are both the cause and the consequence of poverty. As long as levels of inequality, poverty, and exclusion persist, little will be achieved in reducing disaster risk and it is very difficult to break this vicious circle. Viruses, hydro-meteorological events, and earthquakes pose similar challenges but the pre-existing conditions are different as well as the way societies respond to them

UNDP has worked with the Dominican Republic Government most recently in updating the National Response Plan against events seismic, the Protocol activation and operation of an Early Warning System-SAT, both prepare in close coordination with the Emergency Operations Center (known as COE); the Interactive Map of the Vulnerability Index to Climate Shocks (known as IVACC) and the National Action Protocol for Social Protection Against Climate Shocks, both prepared in coordination with UNICEF ​​and the Cabinet of Social Policies, in particular with Prosoli and SIUBEN.

Current investments and efforts–and those made over the years–to strengthen their social protection systems, rebuild their drinking water supply, and road works have paid off and have enable the country to face current challenges and protect the progress made to achieve sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda.

Resilient people, communities, municipalities, and nations are not built overnight. It required at all levels of governance and political commitment in management and risk reduction needed to gradually move at national and local levels.

UNDP recently published The Way Ahead: Governance in the Age of Emergency, calling for a discussion on the future of governance and invites us to challenge, innovate and co-create new partnerships for the transition government facing the humanity. It is "an urgent call to build a new art of governing for an era of uncertainty and risk.”

The pandemic is an opportunity to rethink the arrangements and governance functions in complex risk scenarios. At the end of the day, although sometimes it is not so obvious: everything is related to everything.