Expert of the Week   for  09 - 22 Oct 2017

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Shashanka Saadi

Head of Emergency Response Programme

Shashanka Saadi, as an expert of humanitarian works, DRR and Resilience, has managed programs and projects for 15 years with International NGOs and UN in Asia and Africa. Building on his experience to ensure resilience building and effective humanitarian response for communities, local and national actors, Shashanka is currently managing the Emergency Response Programme of BRAC International in Asia and Africa. Before joining BRAC International, Shashanka was the Emergency Response Adviser at Water Aid in Nepal after devastating earthquakes of 2015. Prior, he was the Director at Center for Research on Development & Market (CRDM), Conflict & Emergency Adviser and International Manager in Action Aid International and Project Manager-Team Leader in UNDP Bangladesh. He also worked at Action Aid Bangladesh and Care Bangladesh - in different capacities in country and abroad. Mr. Shashanka brings with him a wealth of leadership experience in the field of Disaster Risk Management & Reduction (DRMR), Resilience and Humanitarian Response especially on community based emergency responses and budgeting, local leadership promotion, business performance analysis and management reporting. He completed his Masters in Sociology from University of Dhaka and the Fellowship on Leadership from Eisenhower Fellowship Programme, USA. While on fellowship, he met with experts in natural disaster mitigation and management of climate change effects and social communication. He is a regular contributor to knowledge sphere of DRR and Resilience. His articles on School based DRMR, Climate Adaptation and Emergency Response were published in different journals and newspapers.

Risk Blindness: a Threat to Resilience Building

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QQuestion by Mr DUSAN ZUPKA

Dear Mr. Saadi,
Yes, risk blindness of authorities and the population at large is definitely undermining resilience building. One of the main factors contributing to risk levels is vulnerability. Could you elaborate in more details with regard to critical areas of vulnerability, which boost the natural disasters related risks as well as the most effective ways to reduce these vulnerabilities.

Mr DUSAN ZUPKA Coordinator DRM Academic Courses | University Geneva/International Graduate Institute

APosted on 22 Oct 2017

 Dear Dusan Zupka

Your point is critical and important. A hazard becomes disaster due to the combination of vulnerability and capacity. I will try to cover your query in short by adopting theoretical framework of vulnerability by Ian Davis, Ben Wisner, Piers Blaikie,Terry Cannon and John Twigg. 

Vulnerability has different dimensions such as social, political, economic, physical/geographical, etc. All of these play critical role in progression of vulnerability; reduce people’s coping capacity and increase risks to disasters. To me the critical dimensions of vulnerabilities are - social, political and economic. And these three are interlinked.

Critical Areas of the Social vulnerability: Exclusion

Exclusion is a process within state, society and communities which make people most vulnerable to disasters. There are number of people who are excluded within the community activities due to their gender, age, ability, ethnicity, religion, color. They receive limited knowledge, skill and resource to learn about hazards, risks and risk reduction in the name of social norm and taboo. Their voices are not heard, their experiences are not given value and they are left behind in social decision making process. As result women, children, disabled, ethnic and religious minorities, these groups are always most affected

Theoretically there are many steps and propositions. From my experience, following steps are useful to address these critical areas and reduce vulnerability:

Conduct participatoryvulnerability and risk analysis at rural and urban communities, using tools like focus group discussion, key informant’s interview, well being ranking, cause-effect analysis, social map, institutional map, livelihood matrix, seasonal calendar etc., involving representation of local authorities and elected local governments and ensuring participation of excluded groups in the analysis. Sometimes, it is better to have separate sessions with women,children, disabled, elders, and any other excluded groups to understand the level of vulnerability and associated risk exposures. The analysis and group discussions are useful to open up the eyes of the society, make them aware about ‘why and how’ the excluded groups are vulnerable.

Work with the community to convince them (where society are too rigid) and organize women-led, disabled-led, children-led or elder-led volunteer groups, train them on disaster preparedness, early warning dissemination, disaster risk and vulnerability reduction, and, support them to transfer the information to the communities through locally adopted cultural tools, events, etc.  

Work with the education experts to integrate the vulnerability-risk analysis information in curriculum to build a inclusion aware future citizens. It is a longer term investment to remove the historical vulnerability of a large segment of population within the society.

Critical Areas of the Economic vulnerability: Livelihood Insecurity

Livelihood is the most important factor that makes a significant difference in the life of vulnerable people. Most of the vulnerable people do not have livelihood security. They have to depend on daily wages, subsistence income, seasonal migration etc., to survive with families. And most of the cases the livelihoods are not resilient to disaster risks. The agriculture wage labors indirectly affected when a landowner lose his or her crop but the impact is direct to the wage labors as they lose income for an indefinite period. When a small grocery shop owner lose her/his shop due to tidal wave or flood or cyclonic storm, she/he cannot recover as no one covers her/his initial investment. When women lose their livestock or poultry they cannot pay the education fees of their children and dropout rate increase. Thus vulnerability progressed and risk to disaster increased.

From my experience, following steps are useful to address livelihood insecurity:

Identify disaster resilient livelihood for the vulnerable communities during the vulnerability & risk analysis. Alternative livelihood needs to be identified in similar way.

Provide capacity building support to the vulnerable communities so that they can adopt the alternative livelihoods. For example, a female agriculture daily wage earner goes to urban areas or cities for income when she does not have any job in her area. Learning a skill relevant for city jobs will make her resourceful and ensure sufficient income, help her to save money for future, repair her house before hazard season, send her children to school and thus progressively reduce her vulnerabilities.

Introduce low-cost technology and create market access to the small holders and producers so that they can avoid the vicious circle of middle-men and get maximum profitfor their products and labor.

Critical Areas of the Political vulnerability: Lack of participation in decision making process

Most vulnerable people are always excluded from the decision making process. They are not included or represented in the local committees, their voice are not heard in the community discussion, their role is not recognized in the maintenance of infrastructure and prevention of disaster risks. Women, disabled and elders are not included in the local disaster management committees. Plans for risk reduction remain inclusion-blind. The communities become risk-blind due to lack of their participationin analysis of disaster risks and ability to make decision timely. In many cases embankment collapsed during tidal surge or flash flood or flood due tolack of repairing and maintenance. Vulnerable communities are not involved inthe maintenance of the embankment.

Following steps areuseful to reduce these vulnerabilities:

Advocacy with national and local government to make inclusive disaster risk reduction policy, ensuring at least fifty percent representation of women, disabled, elders and other most vulnerable groups in local and national disaster management committees.

Ensure participation of the vulnerable communities in designing, implementing and maintaining of embankments and other critical infrastructure which prevent disasters and monitor the maintenance process. This is not a physical perspective, rather a political process because the decision to include vulnerable communities in maintenance of the infrastructure in the important issue. These are part of strengthening localization to make communities resilient. 

I would be happy to make more in-depth reply to your question. Thank you. 

QQuestion by Mr Dave Paul Zervaas

Dear Shashanka, In your opinion, why do people not perceive risk? Is there anything that we could do to increase awareness in communities? Last but not least, do you think that awareness-raising efforts such as UNISDR's and of other organizations' are effective? Thanks and kind regards.

Mr Dave Paul Zervaas Programme Management Officer | UNISDR

APosted on 15 Oct 2017

Dear DavePaul Zervaas

People do not perceive risk due to various reasons. Tome, five critical factors influence people to ignore risk - lack of experienceof a disaster scenario; lack of awareness raising programs in the communities;lack of integration of disaster education in curriculum and business plans;lack of 'people friendly' early warning system; and trust on infrastructuralprotection. 

By lack of experience of a disaster scenario, I mean thatall communities do not experience cyclone or hurricanes or typhoons or a biggerflood or earthquakes regularly. For example, in Bangladesh, people of southeastcoastal belt have not experienced cyclone or cyclonic storm for more than 15years before ROANU tropical storm. So, most of them who are above 16 or 17years old, have forgotten the impact. The population under 15 years has nomemory of disaster scenario. 

By lack of awareness raising programs in the communities,I mean that all vulnerable communities have not been covered by theawareness-raising activities for better disaster preparedness. There is a lackof continuity of awareness-raising activities as most of those are projectbased. On the other hand, local and national government and private sectorsemphasize infrastructure over awareness-raising. As a result awareness-raisingactivities are deprioritized and not getting sufficient funding. Theawareness-raising activities are also not supplemented by simulation or mockdrill which can raise the level of awareness to a higher level. 

By lack of integration of disaster education incurriculum and business plans, I mean that disaster education is not deliveredin schools, colleges in the vulnerable areas though it is incorporated in theschool curriculum. Children are not aware about the impact of the hazards. Theyare not able to transfer the knowledge on risk and risk reduction to theirfamilies, peer and others. Disaster education is not integrated in the businessplans of local government, local markets, private sectors and other actors.Local small and medium business groups and enterprises do not give emphasis ondisaster risk and risk reduction integrated business plan. Most of theorganizations working on disaster risk reduction do not cover these groups toraise the awareness on disaster risk. 

By lack of 'people friendly' early warning system Imean that existing early warning system in Bangladesh does not give a clearpicture of disaster scenario to vulnerable people. The cyclone warning systemis not supplemented by tidal surge scenario. People do not get clear picture oftime and height of tidal surge. People feel that they can cope with the windbut their main threat is the tidal surge. Tidal surge becomes deadly when itcoincides with time of high tide and favorable wind. But early warning messagesdo not provide this vital information to the people.

By trust on infrastructure I mean that people feel safewhen they are staying inside an embankment and they believe that it willprotect them from hazards. However, the embankments are not maintained properlyalong the coastal belt. They become weak and vulnerable. Due to lack ofparticipation of vulnerable people in the maintenance process they fail toperceive the risk of breached embankment. Such incidents multiplied the impactsof a harmless tidal surge and devastate habitats as we have seen in case of ROANU. 

The efforts of UNISDR and other organizations to raiseawareness on disaster risks have changed governments and people's perception onrisks and reduced the impact of disasters. In a way they are definitelyeffective. However, my analysis from the experience is that project basedawareness-raising activities are not sustainable. The awareness-raisingactivities should be supplemented by simulation and mock drills. Localgovernment's development plan should integrate awareness-raising activities inthe vulnerable areas. Private sectors' engagement in the awareness-raisingactivities will help the small and medium enterprises to develop risk awarenessand take action to reduce losses. UNISDR can play a bigger role to influencegovernments and donors to allocate sufficient funding to continue theawareness-raising activities and ensure participation of communities ininfrastructure maintenance. UNISDR and other organization can come up withinnovative idea for dissemination of people friendly early warning system. Ibelieve these will be more effective to keep people aware about the risks andreduce losses of lives, livelihoods and assets.