Advancing Integration Series


Advancing integration: A flexible approach over the long-term, a structured approach in the interim?

Dr Manu Gupta, SEEDS India
The ‘Disaster Risk Reduction community’ has been trying hard to see disaster risk management ‘integrated’ in the post-2015 Development Agenda. To achieve the poverty goals by 2030, resilience to disasters must be effectively achieved. There is a consensus on this. However, the bigger challenge before us is on reaching an agreement on the ‘how to’.

In most institutions, development programming and disaster risk management (including prevention, mitigation and preparedness) remain separate and often detached practices. In my personal engagements with local public officials, arguments for integration or mainstreaming do not find easy acceptability. The standard defense is that there is limited capacity. Sometimes I find there is an assumed position of over-confidence based on a rather simplistic view of how disaster risk is understood and interpreted. The longer term context and projected scenarios are usually not considered at the local level. The availability of information is scarce, and mechanisms for integration are not available. The good news is that there is a progressively increasing awareness of the need for integration. Widely documented and reported cases especially through increased citizens’ voice and accountability have hugely contributed to this trend.

Within the larger practitioner community, the route to integration is generally presumed to begin from a ‘reflection’ process using modified monitoring and evaluation tools. Well-designed tools can provide high resolution disaggregated data that can help taking informed decisions on integration. These may, however, only provide a short term structured solution to the challenge. In Asia, where countries are experiencing double digit growth figures, a learning perspective is urgently needed, to ensure long term development investments are protected. In Vietnam a scholarship programme aimed at promoting such learning has been successful in building interests and awareness.

Effective development requires long-sighted leadership. It is the duty of decision makers towards citizens to maximize the value of public resources. Ignoring possible impacts of hazard events, for example, should ideally play on the accountability the duty bearer has towards its citizens. In my personal conversations with a field level Public Development Officer, I was lead to understand that disaster risk reduction was not in his job description, and hence had apparent indifference towards such issues. A problem like this has its roots in the nature institutional leadership and the policy environment. Unless we overcome the ‘reluctance’ to state our goals, and spell out clear topline messages, the mechanisms that we put in place too would lack pragmatism and would never get translated, for example, into job descriptions of people on the ground.

Some of the successes in other sectors, particularly in combating AIDS, provide interesting lessons on leadership that brought an ‘outside’ issue well within the existing policies and programs of the Government. Strong research support made all the difference. In discussion on the place of Disaster Risk Reduction in development, there is still limited research on investigating (let alone acting upon) on underlying causes that lead to disasters. There are vague and dated arguments on investments in prevention compared to expenditure on relief. Economic arguments are weak, and hence often do not merit annual budget considerations of institutions. Inaccurate and sketchy projections of future scenarios make matters worse. There is need to bring in greater objectivity, with sufficient information and arguments made available on effectiveness of development investments. Overseas development assistance should have a strong role to play in pushing this agenda. In Vietnam, the Australian aid push towards climate-disaster ‘proofing’ of the Cao Lanh Bridge Project is a strong case. Since, integration requires higher initial investments, it makes sense for aid agencies and lending institutions to drive this agenda. Donors can or already have access to the necessary materials to drive risk management forward, such as risk assessments and feasibility studies. When considered in the design stage of an intervention - integration efforts have maximum positive impact.

Communities can no longer deal with disasters and their impact in isolation of other development challenges. We need to step out of the preparedness and emergency syndrome, and target longer-term development investments that prevent risk creation in the first place. This calls for review of current mandates of institutions that deal with disaster management and climate change, strong policy pronouncements to be leveraged appropriately to guide development investments. To support this review, sound research clearly establishing linkages between development and disasters at the operational level is needed, supported by a learning approach that incorporates a forensic analysis of risks that currently exist.

The 2015 cross-roads is an important time to enable such a change. In the interim, an objective oriented approach utilizing existing indicators derived from established domains of climate change, environment sustainability and disaster risk reduction would potentially address immediate concerns.