Many thanks for your questions.
The concept of justice (reference here is to Amartya Sen, 2009) gives a vantage point to argue that deaths in disasters are avoidable. When deaths continue to happen despite being avoidable, they are ‘intolerable injustices’ and they require ‘overwhelming priority’ to rectify the existing human systems to reduce deaths. In this vein, the theory of justice enables actors and organisations to dig deep into themselves to acknowledge the fact that mistakes, errors and second order mis-management can happen in not saving lives. Therefore, actors and organisations involved in disaster management systems should actively promote reflection, reflective practices, soft-systems thinking, and complexity thinking to frame problems, as well as solutions that can reduce human deaths. I have provided a short list of sources that identify tools to promote reflection, systems and complexity thinking.
The concept of justice also thrives on ‘social realisations’, which are assessed based on ‘people’s capability’. Capability is the power to do something whether this is related to evacuation prior to a disaster or being able to be well nourished or healthy in everyday life. Social realisation goes beyond the organisational picture and includes the lives that people manage or do not manage to live (Sen, 2009). This theoretical lens gives us the agency to understand everyday vulnerabilities of marginalised groups, as well vulnerabilities of organisations. When organisations fail to fulfil their duties, social realisations can make room for the civil society and citizens “for demands of duty” from the actors and organisations who have failed to protect or save human lives. However, making actors accountable is difficult, particularly considering the poor death reporting systems which are complicated by local context and cultural norms.
How to include the concepts of justice and accountability in DRR policies…?
A few practical recommendations for this are as follows:
1. Introduce the ‘goal’ to avoid disaster deaths in disaster management policies and programmes. Currently, there is a lack of clarity in this regard.
2. Specific to culture, context and economics of a country, national disaster management authorities in collaboration with the UN and civil society should identify what is avoidable and unavoidable death targets specific to hazards/risks. Accordingly, earmark and allocate budgets that will be required to meet the targets for avoidable and unavoidable deaths.
3. The concept of justice also manifests through the complexity of actors and organisations that are involved in disaster management systems at different levels and scale (for instance, there are primary, secondary and tertiary actors/responders at local, national, regional and international levels). Decision-making is no longer centralised rather decentralised. The current disaster management practices and disaster management cycles simplify things, whereas reducing disaster deaths is a complex matter. The complexity of actors and organisations that works in interface with technology should form the crux of disaster management systems. Unpacking this complexity either for evacuation, mitigation, response, or recovery policies and measures is highly essential. The civil society, UN and national authorities – among others, can collectively unpack the complexity through mapping of actors and organisations and their responsibilities. This information should provide a ‘window of opportunity’ to citizens and civil society to question or demand duty should the relevant actor/organisation fail to do so. In doing so, this process will begin to promote accountability in the disaster management system.
4. Political leadership is vital to promote the idea of reducing disaster deaths in DRR policies and programmes. When there is proactive political leadership, a disaster response system can be aligned with the goal of saving lives. Additionally, political leadership can also promote a culture of disaster preparedness. In the case of Cyclone Phailin in 2014, Mr. Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister of the Indian state called: Odisha, set a goal of “saving lives at any cost”. Accordingly, all actors and responders organised themselves to achieve this target. In this light, the UN and other international funding organisations could do a great deal by encouraging political leadership to implement the Sendai’s ‘priorities for action’ for effective disaster management.
5. The current practices in documenting the primary (direct) deaths, secondary (indirect) deaths and missing persons are shrouded with confusion and malpractice. The UN and civil societies, in collaboration with national governments, should identify the barriers to death reporting and recording. Solutions to the barriers should contribute towards the process of standardising death reporting and recording systems, nationally. Death records are vital to promoting justice for the deceased and deceased families. Also, authentic death recording and reporting is vital to allocate finite disaster funds effectively to reduce disaster deaths and also to change human behaviour. Although global disaster deaths may indicate that more women die in disasters compared to men, this may not be the case at a national level. My research in Odisha revealed that more men died compared to women in coastal Odisha from 1999 to 2014 (Ray-Bennett (2017) Disaster, Deaths and the Sendai Goal One, World Development, 103(2018): 27-39).
Sources for reflection and systems thinking:
IDRC (2001) Outcome mapping: Building learning and reflection into development programs. IDRC. http://www.idrc.ca/EN/Resources/Publications/Pages/IDRCBookDetails.aspx?PublicationID=121.
Ray-Bennett NS (2018) Avoidable deaths: A systems failure approach to disaster risk management. Springer Nature, Switzerland.
Schön DA (1983) The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Ashgate Publishing Ltd, London.
Senge P (1990) The leader’s new work: Building learning organizations. Sloan Management Review, 32(1990): 7-23.
Senge PM, Kleiner A, Roberts C, Ross RB and Smith BJ (1994) The fifth discipline fieldbook. Doubleday, New York.
Taleb NN (2007) The black swan: The impact of the highly improbable. Penguin Books Ltd, London.
VCLL (2013) Practising reflection: Reflective practises in disaster risk reduction: Short course handbook. University of Leicester, Leicester.
Weick KE (1988) Enacted sensemaking in crisis situations. Journal of Management Studies, 25(4): 305-317. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6486.1988.tb00039.x