Our Perspectives

Decision time? First take a look at what makes you crazy


In the Dominican Republic, UNDP created a risk analysis that improves knowledge about seismic threats and physical vulnerability of the Gran Santo Domingo area. Photo: UNDP

This post is part of a series from UNDP experts sharing their views and experiences in the lead up to the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction taking place in May and the World Reconstruction Conference in June.

The most read New York Times article in 2016 was, ‘Why you will marry the wrong person.’ In a follow-up podcast, author Alain de Botton outlines how a romantic ideal obstructs a clear analysis and application of time-tested criteria before entering into, arguably, one of the most important decisions an individual can make. Marriage - at extreme ends both possibly rich and fruitful or miserably impoverishing - is often calculated in heady moments of euphoria and dreams. Poor decision making can have enormous emotional and financial costs, potentially spreading beyond the couple down to children and into the future.

He suggests that the vetting process should include one key question: “What makes you crazy?” In other words, analyzing one’s flaws as well as considering what might be risky to the partnership or to one’s self, will result in a much  better decision over the long haul.

Indeed, any significant decision should consider the risks, the payoffs and the costs.  Risk assessment. A pragmatic approach to making a decision that could entail social, economic and physical consequences. If we take any wisdom from this line of thinking, then the question to ask is “How is the country crazy?”

In other words, where do the risks lie? A good risk analysis means taking the measure of potential threats or hazards, and combining it with an assessment of the potential adverse impacts. It means asking, “What hazards are we exposed to? And with what frequency?”

This step should be complemented by a reflection on “where do the weaknesses lie?” How might socio-economic deprivation, gender inequality, food insecurity, or wide-spread health issues such as malaria make a country more prone to deeper or more protracted hardship in the event of a disaster?

The other part of assessing risk is to know one’s strengths. Factors such as government effectiveness, social protection measures, access to services such as health or education, and conditions of physical infrastructure all contribute to national or local ability to respond to a crisis, and/or mitigate its effect on the population. Disasters, like a marriage gone wrong, can wreak havoc on growth and progress, be it personal, social or economic.

In Latin American and the Caribbean, several countries are asking such questions. Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are working to adapt a risk assessment tool, known as the ‘Index for Risk Management (INFORM),’ to the national context.  INFORM provides a simplified and standardized methodology to analyze and measure the risk of humanitarian crisis and disasters, and understand how the conditions that lead to them affect sustainable development.

The tool uses public sources to provide a composite index, identifying where risk is the highest. This allows national and sectoral actors to channel resources, support and tools to the most appropriate recipients with the aim of increasing resilience and reducing the likelihood and costs of disasters. Information can be extracted by district or by sector, to help identify where protection measures or planning actions – such as public investments, social compensation to reduce vulnerability, or land management approaches, for example - would help reduce the risk. It tracks trends over time, allowing for prioritization of territories and actions.  In Latin American, the tool is being modified to reflect the realities of respective countries and will support risk-informed decision-making in planning and programming processes, allocation of resources, and disaster response. Risk assessment is a pragmatic step which identifies where the potential “craziness” resides and what can be done about it.

Serious engagement in one’s development, at micro or macro level – one seeking a trajectory that bears fruit and doesn’t suck energy or leave greater misery in its wake – would be well served by asking, “How are you/we crazy?”  In terms of marriage, the question provides an opening for evaluating and informing the degree of investment in another person. In terms of development, the question can serve as the basis for mitigating the economic, physical and social costs associated with the craziness of crisis or disasters.

blog series Disaster risk reduction Latin America & the Caribbean Jacinda Fairholm Blog post Risk assessment Risk governance Climate change and disaster risk reduction

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