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Disaster risk – are we responsible too?

By Priyanthi Fernando, posting live from the Workshop on Implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction: Learning from Global and Regional Experiences.

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Andrew Maskrey, Coordinator, Global Assessment Report of Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR) spoke at the inaugural session of the Workshop on Implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction: Learning from Global and Regional Experiences in Hikkaduwa, starting with a potted history of the Disaster Management field that highlighted why a Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction was needed.

Since the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) 1989-1999 despite many international agreements the disaster risk has not reduced.  In the 1980s, disaster risk was perceived in terms of natural hazards, mainly by natural scientists, and the need to understand risk was considered a prerequisite for preparing and responding effectively to disasters.  Later, as it became understood that a disaster was only a disaster if natural hazards affected people or economies or infrastructure; architects, engineers and planners started getting involved in the disaster management conversations. So, the concepts of ‘exposure’ and ‘vulnerability’ came into the disaster management lexicon, and the focus was on ‘disaster prevention’.

Maskrey pointed out that in all these conceptualisations of disasters, we looked at disasters as something exogenous – hence the phrases ‘affected by disaster, impacted by disaster’, without asking where the risk is coming from.  In cases like the Asian tsunami of 2004, no one will argue that the hazard was actually exogenous, but if we look at floods, drought, or landslides, for instance, we can see that the risk is a result of human actions – how we manage our investments, how we manage our water resources etc. The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) began to shift the conversation by referring to the underlying risk factors.  The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) turns the HFA inside out, and is based on the recognition that disaster risk is endogenous, that it resides inside our development activity.  This means that we need to change the way we do development rather than just protect development from disaster risk. The change is so radical that we need to now review whether the way we have been working, whether the institutions that were responsible for disaster management etc. are still relevant.

One hundred and eighty-seven governments including all those in the South Asia, who have signed up to the SFDRR, have to take up this challenge, and monitor their achievements via four quantitative targets that the SFDRR has set itself.

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