This year a number of major disasters have captivated the attention of the public and media: the January earthquake in Haiti, the massive earthquake in Chile one month later, the summer heatwave and wildfires in Russia and months of continued flooding in Pakistan.
While these large events caused great losses and suffering, it is generally the smaller and more frequent disasters that undermine sustainable development and prohibit people from achieving greater economic stability and growth. “Forgotten” or “ignored” disasters erode peoples’ livelihoods, limiting our collective achievement of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).
In times of disaster, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) aims to save lives, protect livelihoods and strengthen recovery. We take a holistic approach to disaster risk reduction, aiming to strengthen both community safety and resilience. When provided with support to prioritize and manage their own risks, a community’s capacity to absorb shocks, whether related to food security, livelihoods, health, infrastructure or other sectors, is increased. Through this long-term approach, economic growth is enabled.
Risk reduction is therefore the most economically efficient approach to managing disasters. Recent studies by the Red Cross Red Crescent in Nepal, the Philippines and Sudan show that risk reduction delivers financial savings. When funds are invested in risk reduction, governments achieve significant savings in response costs, savings that typically exceed the initial risk reduction investment. When soundly rooted in the communities, risk reduction benefits can be realized in the long-term, as demonstrated by the Bangladesh cyclone preparedness programme.
From the humanitarian perspective, risk reduction saves not only money, but more importantly, lives and livelihoods. Consider the 2009 to 2010 food crisis in Niger to the similar 2005 to 2006 drought. With better predictive systems and long-term programmes now in place, communities were able to respond to this recent crisis more quickly. Early warning systems indicated the production of a poor crop season at the end of 2009, resulting in a much faster and better coordinated response.
Through this long-term approach of strengthening resilience, the Red Cross Red Crescent also takes into consideration the changing dynamics of the world we work in. Climate change is increasingly being factored into our work, recognising that the more resilient a community is, the better able it is to adapt to changing weather patterns and increased uncertainty.
Further, as the 2010 edition of the World Disasters Report shows, 2.57 billion urban dwellers living in low-and middle-income nations are vulnerable to unacceptable levels of risk fuelled by rapid urbanization, poor local governance, population growth, poor health services and in many instances, the rising tide of urban violence. A significant percentage of this urban population is also particularly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.
The urban risk divide existing between cities that are well-governed and well-resourced compared to those that struggle with a lack of resources and knowledge needs to be addressed, to ensure a well-functioning urban environment. In line with the theme of the World Disasters Report 2010, the IFRC endorses the current campaign of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) to make cities resilient. In direct support of the ISDR campaign, the IFRC is embarking on a 12 month research programme to clarify its policy direction and approaches regarding urbanization.
As an active member of the ISDR, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is committed to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), which like the MDGs is undergoing a progress review this year. Our goal over the remaining five years of the HFA is to accelerate progress, particularly in the priority area of “reducing underlying risk” so that collectively we can continue saving lives.
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