Expert of the Week   for  02 - 08 Nov 2015

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Frank Thomalla

Senior Research Fellow

Stockholm Environment Institute Expertise:  Disaster risk reduction, vulnerability, resilience, climate change adaptation.

Dr Thomalla leads the SEI Asia Centre's Research Cluster on Disaster Risk in Asia Pacific and co-leads SEI’s global Initiative on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk He has more than 20 years of experience and specialises in disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, and development. His work focuses on advancing theoretical and practical understanding of the complex interactions of the human-environment system and the implications of these processes for poverty reduction, livelihoods, and sustainable, equitable and resilient development.

Development and disaster risk: How does development create risk? What is needed to transform development in order to reduce risk, rather than create it?

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QQuestion by Ms John Ievers

I am looking for good examples or capitalising on windows of opportunities, post disaster to build resilient recovery correcting errors of development. I am especially interested in NGO roles, considering time pressures and real resilient change.

Ms John Ievers Director, consultant | Ievers consulting

APosted on 08 Nov 2015

Dear Ms John Ievers,

This is a great question – and one that is really quite challenging to answer.

The idea that a disaster can present a window of opportunity to correct errors of development, or to ‘build back better’ has been discussed for some time. See, for example:

Birkmann, J., Buckle, P., Jaeger, J., Pelling, M., Setiadi, N., et al. (2010) ‘Extreme events and disasters: a window of opportunity for change? Analysis of organizational, institutional and political changes, formal and informal responses after mega-disasters’. Natural Hazards, 55(3). 637–55. doi:10.1007/s11069-008-9319-2.

But there seems to be only a limited understanding to-date of how such an opportunity can be realized in practice, and how past efforts to long-term resilience in development have performed. I’m currently working on a project looking at the transition from short-term post-disaster recovery to long-term resilience building processes (see

As you’re eluding to yourself, the post-disaster situation requires urgent action to address immediate humanitarian needs, such as access to food, water, sanitation, shelter, etc., and the rapid recovery of livelihoods and economic activities. At the same time, the decision-making in the vital early stages, at all levels, greatly influences the vulnerability and resilience of millions of people to future disaster risks. But how short-term responses may enable, hamper, or be relevant to, longer-term disaster resilience and how these processes could be better linked is poorly understood, since not many longitudinal studies have been conducted.

Approaches for linking short-term responses to disasters to medium- and long-term redevelopment processes include the following:

Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development (LRRD):

Building Back Better:

Building disaster resilience: This is a publication of the “Global Network of NGOs” for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Transforming governance:   

In addition to the publicationof the “Global Network of NGOs” for Disaster Risk Reduction, there issome guidance on role of NGOs in DRR and post-disaster recovery and resiliencebuilding:


How NGOs Can Help in Disaster Recovery:


The role of nongovernmental Organizations in long-Term Humanrecovery after Disaster:


Draft National Guidelines on Role of NGOs in Disaster:

Given the scale and severity of the impacts of recent major disasters, such as the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2008 Cyclone Nargis, the 2011 Bangkok floods, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the 2013 Cyclone Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines (to name but a few events in Asia), assessments of the longer-term impacts of post-disaster decisions and actions remain unfulfilled, as the repercussions of these events will continue to unfold for many years to come.

There are many lessons yet to be learnt from these events in regard to longer-term social recovery and clear approaches with practical applications for post-disaster contexts are mostly unsubstantiated. What is required is a retrospective view of the decisions made and actions taken in the months and even years following the event, and how they have translated into the long-term development of more, or less, disaster-resilient communities.

QQuestion by Mr Zakir Md. Hossain

Dear Mr Frank Thomalla,
Development project planning and activities seriously need a Disaster Risk Impact Assessment (DRIA) tool and local people are to be considered as a stakeholder in any development process for DRR. Please comment

Mr Zakir Md. Hossain Facilitator | Somaj of ESGPS

APosted on 08 Nov 2015

Dear Mr Zakir Md. Hossain,

I fully agree – in order to reduce disaster risk and build long-term resilience in development, all development projects need to 1) assess how existing and future hazards are expected to affect the planned development,and 2) how the planned development can be designed and constructed in order to reduce existing risks and to avoid creating new risks in the future.

The participation of all stakeholders in this process is crucial in order to ensure that decisions create equitable and resilient development outcomes for all involved. Decision-making processes should take into account the priorities, aspirations and needs of local people to make sure that everyone benefits from the planned development and that nobody faces greater risks as a result of the development. This requires a good process of governance that enables different stakeholders from public, civil society and the private sector to come together to present their views, discuss different options, and jointly decide on the most appropriate type of development.   

Creating the institutions and governance systems that enable such multi-stakeholder processes that also address the whole range of disaster and climate-related risks in an integrated way is a big task. Efforts to mainstream DRR and climate change adaptation into development have been ongoing for some time and countries have experienced variable success. There is much to learn from good examples and we should encourage governments to share the lessons learnt in their country efforts through regional processes such as the SAARC.

QQuestion by Mr DUSAN ZUPKA

Dear Dr. Tomalla,

Based on your experience, please describe the most effective ways and tools for mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction into development.

Many thanks and best regards, Ing. Dusan ZUPKA

Mr DUSAN ZUPKA Lecturer on Disaster Risk Management | University Geneva/International Graduate Institute

APosted on 04 Nov 2015

Dear Mr Dusan Zupka,

Thank you so much for your question.

Mainstreaming DRR into development is a complex undertaking as it includes identifying and reducing risks, enhancing preparedness, providing financial protection from the economic impacts of disasters, and promoting resilient reconstruction (The Sendai Report 2012). It calls for holistic assessment of the potential (current and projected) impacts of disasters (and climate change) on all planned development actions; across all sectors and thematic practice areas, at all levels, and as a key component of the design, implementation, and M&E of programmes and policies (Han, 2009; UNDP, 2013). One example of this is seen in the National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management in Nepal, where mainstreaming is a core strategic activity (Government of Nepal).

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction: 2015-2030 (SFDRR) makes three references to the importance of mainstreaming; under Priority 2 ‘Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk’ and Priority 3 ‘Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience’ (UN General Assembly, 2015).

Mainstreaming requires collaboration across a multitude of global, regional and national mechanisms and institutions and addressing a wide range of issues related to DRR, climate change, sustainable development, poverty reduction, environmental protection, agriculture, health, food security, and others. These issues can be addressed holistically and in tandem by pursuing mutually supportive goals. Further, effective mainstreaming may come about when DRR is viewed as a necessary and beneficial (e.g. offering financial return) investment in development, rather than as an additional burden on already stretched budgets.

Many organisations have prepared documents on mainstreaming DRR into development. Here are some resources I have found particularly helpful:

Benson, Charlotte and John Twigg with Tiziana Rossetto (2007). Tools for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction: Guidance Notes for Development Organisations. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socities, Provention Consortium. Geneva: Provention:

La Trobe, Sarah and Ian Davis (2005). Mainstreaming Disaster Risk reduction: A tool for development organisations. Middlesex: Tearfund:

A guide to mainstreaming disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation:

Ben Wisner, J.C. Gaillard, Ilan Kelman (2012). Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction. Routledge:

The World Bank and GFDRR (2012). The Sendai Report – Managing Disaster Risks for a Resilient Future:

UN General Assembly (2015). Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030:

UN Development Programme (UNDP) (2013). Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction into Development in UNDP. Presentation by Angelika Planitz:

Han, G. (2009). Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction: A Review of Main Operational Frameworks. Stockholm Environment Institute, presentation at the 9th IIASA-DPRI Conference on Integrated Disaster Risk Management:

Government of Nepal. Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction into Development Planning Processes in Nepal.

In my experience, what’s really important is to bring together people working on different parts of the same puzzle. This can be done through well-designed multi-stakeholder dialogues and learning process. Engaging people from different government departments, civil society, and private sector working at different levels of governance and in different sectors relevant to DRR, is not easy but it helps to overcome institutional and sectoral barriers, to build trust amongst participants and to enhance ownership of the process through participation and deliberation. It also strengthens credibility, builds capacity, and can ultimately lead to institutional reform. Important outcomes of such participatory processes are network building, enhanced communication and the sharing of knowledge and good practice, improved decision-making under uncertainty, and strengthened planning capacities in order to reduce disaster risks. These two publications describe insights from my recent work in Indonesia:

Djalante, R. and Thomalla, F. (2012) ‘Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in Indonesia: Institutional challenges and opportunities for integration’. International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, 3(2). 166–80. doi:10.1108/17595901211245260.

Djalante, R., Thomalla, F., Sinapoy, M. S. and Carnegie, M. (2012) ‘Building resilience to natural hazards in Indonesia: progress and challenges in implementing the Hyogo Framework for Action’. Natural Hazards, 62(3). 779–803. doi:10.1007/s11069-012-0106-8.