Our Perspectives

Managing local level risks for sustainable development


 Jambeshwar Maji, 48, works around the lift irrigation unit. UNDP’s partnership with the Government of Odisha is helping communities in Puri in Odisha adapt to extreme weather events. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/UNDP India

“The most effective disaster and climate risk management focuses on the local level.” As a Disaster Risk Management (DRM) practitioner, I heard this often, and yet only once I worked with communities on the ground did I truly understand the idea’s full import. Working with the GoI-UNDP DRM Programme in India showed me that the most successful and innovative DRM efforts start with communities.

The Programme’s bottom-up approach allowed community members to identify their own risk management and climate adaptation needs, formulate local development and disaster management plans, and have these approved by elected village councils/representatives. It was particularly satisfying to note the sense of ownership the people had for the plans. While this might sound both intuitive and easy, I learned that a bottom-up approach requires sustained and continuous engagement with community members. It requires numerous meetings and consultations with a large cross-section of people, including women, the elderly and other traditionally overlooked groups. It requires sharing information and knowledge about successful practices with these communities, while also familiarizing these communities with administrative mechanisms and methods of promoting administration-community collaboration.

We used this process in India. After the village/community disaster management plans were approved by the village council, the plans were socialized with the elected representatives, ensuring that the relevant decision-makers were duly apprised of community priorities. The disaster management plans informed local development planning, helping to make development in those communities more risk informed. This process has been adopted in 176 districts in 17 states, covering a population of nearly 300 million across one-third of the country under the GoI-UNDP DRM Programme from 2003 to 2009.

But while our work has contributed to some important gains, there is still much more that can be done at the community level. This includes:

  1. A more synergistic and harmonized approach to connecting risk management, sustainable development and effective governance at the local level. This is key, since the most tangible manifestation of disaster risk and climate impact is at the local administrative and community level.
  2. More connections need to be established among DRR, climate adaptation and development approaches. By employing a community lens to local development and risk management planning, we can enhance the effectiveness of risk management interventions and make development sustainable.
  3. A participatory approach to DRM that ensures a closer interface between local administrations and communities. This will promote transparency, accountability and the responsiveness of governance systems and mechanisms.
  4. A bigger role for elected local bodies and representative community organizations in DRM. Their engagement and involvement can act as a bridge between the communities and the local administrations, playing a significant role in ensuring that a risk-informed development and governance paradigm takes hold.

Considering the fact that sustainable development, risk management and resilience building converge at the local level, the post-2015 framework for DRR to be adopted at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan must prioritize focusing capacities and resources at the local level. Risk-informed development must begin at the local and community level to mitigate disaster risks and climate impacts more effectively.

Disaster risk management Disaster risk reduction Disaster recovery Climate change and disaster risk reduction Climate change

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