Managing risks for sustainable development

by - February 2nd, 2015

Disaster risk management can no longer remain isolated from the overall strategy of sustainable development. It is important to ensure that all potential risks of disasters and the mechanisms of reducing the risks of disasters are factored into each of the Sustainable Development Goals.

It is now more than four decades that the world is deliberating on the dimensions of sustainable development and the means of achieving them. Our Common Future, as the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development is commonly known, had highlighted way back in 1987 the potential risks of natural disasters, but somehow risk management branched off to a separate track of disaster risk reduction (DRR). On this DRR track momentous global initiatives were taken - the International Decade on Natural Disaster Reduction (1990), the Yokohama Strategy for a Safer World: Guidelines for Natural Disaster Prevention, Preparedness and Mitigation and its Plan of Action (1995) and the Hyogo Framework of Action 2005-2015: Building Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters (2005) - but these remained largely disconnected with the mainstream discourse on sustainable development.

The rising disaster graph

Mounting natural and technological disasters and spiraling economic losses due to disasters in every part of the world, both developing and developed, brought home the realization that risks of disasters pose one of the greatest threats to sustainable development. The special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (2011) warned that the anthropogenic climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of climate related disasters like cyclones, floods, droughts etc. Non-climatic disasters like earthquakes, tsunami and landslides have caused devastating damages in the recent years and have the potential of inflicting more intense damages as the risks accumulate in dense unsafe urban settlements. Technological disasters like the Bhopal gas tragedy or the Chernobyl nuclear accident or complex cocktail of disasters like the Great East Japan Earthquake that triggered a chain of tsunami, flood, nuclear plant explosion and radioactive ingress into soil, water and ocean threatening public health and safety over a wide region.

Disaster risk management can no longer remain isolated from the overall strategy of sustainable development. A three-dimensional perspective of the disasters-development nexus is now well established: first, disasters erode hard-earned gains of development by damaging life, livelihoods, infrastructure and environment assets; second, lack of development perpetuates and aggravates existing social and economic vulnerabilities, particularly of the poor and low-income people; and third, developments often cause new disasters by creating new risks. Therefore, dealing with all these three dimensions must be integral part of sustainable development.

The Future We Want, as the outcome document of the Rio+20 Summit is known, highlighted this nexus which escaped the Rio and Agenda 21: "Disaster risk reduction and building of resilience to disasters to be addressed with a renewed sense of urgency in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and, as appropriate, to be integrated into policies, plans, programmes, and budgets at all levels and considered within relevant future frameworks."

Evolving global frameworks

As the global community is bracing for three momentous events of 2015 - Third World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Sendai in March to adopt a new global framework on risk reduction, 16th Session on UNGA to finalize the Sustainable Development Goals in New York in September, and the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties of UNFCCC in Paris in December to agree to a new climate agreement - these provide opportunities of integrating holistic risk management in sustainable development.

Risk management can no longer remain fragmented, but must be considered in its totality. The global initiatives so far - International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), Yakohama Strategy and Hyogo Framework - focused on natural disasters, leaving the agricultural, industrial, environmental, nuclear, transport, health and other manmade disasters to be addressed separately. Growing knowledge and experiences about disasters have demonstrated that Nature by itself does not create any disaster; it is the exposure of manmade vulnerabilities to the hazards of Nature that causes disasters, and such vulnerabilities may include a wide range of areas such as housing, infrastructure, transport, industry, health etc. Often manmade hazards may interact with natural hazards to create disasters. The anthropogenic climate change is the best example of how emission of greenhouse gases has contributed to increasing climate-related disasters, which may apparently look like natural disasters, but are essentially manmade. Every type of disaster, natural or manmade, has many common elements requiring similar interventions, and therefore a common framework would avoid fragmentation and promote better coordination in planning, strategy and response.

The global framework of disaster risk reduction should be broadened to encompass every aspect of disaster risk management - both pre-disaster risk prevention, mitigation and preparedness (disaster risk reduction) and post-disaster response, relief and recovery (disaster management). There may be different agencies dealing with specific aspects of risk management, but all these elements should be included in the common framework of 'disaster risk management' as these are inter-related.

The new global framework should encourage synergies between disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) which share the common goal of reducing vulnerability of populations to extreme climatic events, but have diverse legal, institutional and policy mechanisms, creating unnecessary fragmentation of initiatives. Better synergies would not only avoid duplicities and derive optimal benefits from scarce resources, but also add value to the process through lessons learnt from the respective perspectives. More and more countries are developing policies and strategies for integrating DRR and CCA; the same should find positive endorsement in post-2015 development agenda for a sustainable future.

An Open Working Group of the UN has recommended a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals and further suggested 164 indicators for monitoring the implementation of the goals. As these goals and indicators would be open to further discussion in various forums leading up to the next session of the General Assembly, it would be important to ensure that all potential risks of disasters and the mechanisms of reducing the risks of disasters have been factored into each of these goals and the means of implementation.

The writer is Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Resource & Env. Governance, Green Growth and Resource Efficiency, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). The article first appeared in IBN Live.com

"Nutri-Gardens" for children

Children in tribal areas of Maharashtra are overcoming malnutrition. A project of TERI-IOCL is promoting the concept of 'Nutri-Gardens' by working closely with farmers' associations.

Three and a half-year-old Manish Hiraman Gowari, a resident of Khanivali village in Thane district, Maharashtra, was detected with severe acute malnutrition in 2013. He weighed just 9.9 kg then, when the standard prescribed by WHO is above 16 kg. Due to the introduction of a concept called "Nutri-Garden", his life changed forever. Regular intake of protein supplements and balanced diet as advised by the project partners and doctors enabled Manish to increase his weight by more than 26 per cent in just three months.

Many children like Manish in the tribal areas of Maharashtra have benefited from a project launched by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (IOCL) and the Thane Zilla Parishad (TZP), which was implemented with the help of Kisan Seva Kendras (KSKs) of IOCL and TZP. The project has today reached out to more than 900 children in 42 villages in the district.

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