25, September, 2013

ELLA Expert Review: Disaster Risk Management in Cities

Here Dr. Fernando Aragón-Durand, an expert member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, offers his perspective on the ELLA knowledge materials on Disaster Risk Management in cities, drawing in particular on the case of Mexico.

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ELLA Expert Reviews: As part of ongoing efforts to ensure quality in our research and communications, the ELLA team asks recognised experts to conduct reviews of the knowledge materials in a given theme and produce a short written response. The purpose is to highlight a range of distinct perspectives amongst experts in the field and link readers with additional research, cases and arguments that the original ELLA materials may not cover.

In the spirit of discussion and debate, we encourage you to share your own comments about the ELLA materials and the review in the comments section below.

Since their inception in the mid-1980s, policies to tackle disasters in Latin America aimed at protecting people from the impact of earthquakes, hurricanes and floods. Disaster policies were meant to mitigate damage and, in some cases, to compensate loss in order to restore affected communities to “normalcy”. This type of policy was shaped by the way disasters were framed as “exceptional situations” provoked by extreme natural phenomena where government and society’s capacities were insufficient to cope with the severe – and often fatal consequences. Over the years, the reactive nature of civil protection policy – as it has been labelled – proved to be weak and insufficient to reduce people’s vulnerability to disasters.

In order to really prevent disasters, most Latin American governments, as well as international and national organisations finally realised that disaster risk reduction has to be a shared goal for many policy sectors. Disasters are no longer conceived as “natural” phenomena; societal vulnerability is seen as the result of a complex interaction of environmental, socio-economic and political processes. That is why sectoral policies are so important in making societies live in safer places. The three policy briefs examined for this review give account of various aspects of a new approach to Disaster Risk Management that is being implemented in the Latin America region.

Institutionalising Disaster Risk Management: Latin America’s Systems Approach is a policy brief intended to explain the institutional process whereby disaster risk reduction is being mainstreamed in development policies and politics in Latin America. The narrative is focused on the notion of a “system-based approach”. According to the author, this approach is the prevailing and most adequate type of DRM approach found in the Latin America region. While re-constructing the evolution of DRM in Latin America, the author contrasts the systems approach with the “response-based approach” from within which civil defence strategies were put into place. However, a more detailed characterisation of both approaches should be done in order to compare the policy objectives, values and strategies utilised in each approach to better understand why the author believes that a “systems approach to DRM” would enable better policy responses and improved vulnerability reduction outcomes. This distinction is important because by grasping how DRM has been evolving in Latin America, the reader could understand how and why the so-called “system-based approach” is believed to be better at designing and implementing DRM than the “response-based” approach, particularly for the type of work Practical Action undertakes.

The “response-based approach” could be framed in other terms (perhaps as a reactive-based or emergency-based) because any type of DRM is in fact a policy response embedded in specific institutional systems. In Mexico, for instance, civil protection policy is indeed a reactive-response system that is slowly shifting towards a preventive system. In this regard, this policy brief might include the definition of key terms such as mainstreaming DRM, systems approach, and response approach. For this purpose, the reader might consult the following materials:

• Aragón, Fernando (2011) Disaster discourses, policy values and responses: the social construction of urban floods in the peri-urban interface of Mexico City. Lambert Academic Publishing, Germany. See in particular Chapter One.

• Calderón, Georgina (2001) Construcción y Reconstrucción del Desastre. Plaza y Valdés editors, México, D.F., México. See in particular Chapter One.

• Briones, Fernando, García Acosta y Audefroy (Coord) (2012) Estrategias Sociales de Prevención y Adaptación CIESAS, CONACYT, FONCICYT, Mexico, D.F.

• Wilkinson, Emilly (2012) “Decentralised Disaster Management: Local Governance, Institutional Learning and Reducing Risk from Hurricanes in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico’. Examines inter-institutional and local governance factors shaping the commitment to and capacity of municipal governments to respond to hurricane risk” PhD thesis, University College, London, UK.

In this policy brief, it is claimed that there has been a shift from one approach to the other. In this regard, it would be worthwhile explaining the reasons and circumstances of such policy changes, why Latin American cities are moving in that direction and what are the drivers in the policy environment that are facilitating such reforms. To my understanding the transition could be explained by looking at the democratisation of politics in Latin American countries, in which decisions are no longer made largely from a central state government (sometimes a military one), but by various sectors of society such as local governments, NGOs, CBOs and even private firms like insurance companies. Another reason may lie in the proven inability of some state governments to provide social protection in the light of a continuous liberalisation process where the market has been playing a central role, for good or for bad.

The narrative gives the impression that the whole process of institutionalising DRM into development planning has been unfolding very smoothly in the whole Latin America region; this is only partially true. For instance, in Mexico disaster policy is still orientated to civil protection where plans and programmes frame disasters as “natural” phenomena and emergency and restoration actions in the aftermath of a disaster are given prominence. Moreover, scientific knowledge and risk assessments are focused on monitoring natural extreme hazards and quite often disregard the importance of the social processes that generate unsafe conditions for vulnerable people. In short, the institutionalisation of DRM in countries like Mexico has faced obstacles with regards to what extent sectoral institutions are aware that disaster risk reduction should be mainstreamed into programmes and plans.

Defining what is meant by ‘DRM mainstreaming’ is critical in order to understand the implications for the decentralisation of roles and responsibilities and to encourage participation of all sectors and stakeholders. Let us remember that at local level there are important organisational and budgetary deficits impeding effective decentralisation of DRM; local government institutions are sometimes politically and economically very weak and unable to implement measures that are designed by the central government. For further explanations, the reader may consult the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2013 (GAR2013) at http://www.preventionweb.net/english/hyogo/gar/2013/en/home/index.html and also can review Wilkinson (2012) cited above.

According to the author of this policy brief, sharing a global understanding of risk and Disaster Risk Management is crucial to preventing disasters in the Latin America region. Nevertheless, at least for countries like Mexico, this common knowledge has not been constructed or disseminated in the national planning system. In the Mexican case, one can say that one of the challenges for this new federal administration is to acknowledge the existence of differing conceptualisations of disaster risk among all involved (policymakers and implementers vis à vis local people) in order to build socially sensitive and effective policy responses. That could also be said for other Latin American countries. For more information, the reader may consult Centro Regional de Información sobre Desastres para América Latina y el Caribe at http://www.cridlac.org and Aragón, Fernando (2011) cited above, in particular Chapter Two.

The case of Mexico can provide learning for use elsewhere. Even though it is still a civil protection system-based approach – as mentioned above – it has recently undergone important changes regarding disaster governance at regional and local level. The updated version of the General Law of Civil Protection was enacted (in 2012) and it opens up new opportunities to establish linkages with the General Law of Climate Change and the National Mexican Adaptation Plan. By acknowledging the importance of taking into consideration climate change in the design of DRM, the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC) is already foreseeing challenges posed by the global and national climate change agenda. In this regard, other Latin American countries with similar institutional arrangements could adapt Mexico´s policy process.

Important lessons can be drawn from Latin American DIPECHO projects, and a number of useful tools are available, ranging from local government assessments of resilience to methodological guides to developing community disaster risk management plans, and mainstreaming risk management into development plans. The information is uploaded on the site http://www.cridlac.org and covers all Latin American countries. The DIPECHO programme being implemented in Central America, for example, has strengthened local capacities and institutional learning in DRM in some other cities such as Managua and Tegucigalpa.

There are additional complementary reports and research that could be reviewed to enhance knowledge on DRM in Latin America. For instance, with regard to exploring the linkages between disaster prevention and climate change adaptation, the 5thAssessment Report of the IPCC will provide updated and useful information on the ´state of the art´ of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Special attention should be paid to Chapter 8, “Adapting urban areas to climate change”. The AR5 WG II, “Impacts, vulnerability and adaptation” will be released in mid-2014. The link is http://www.ipcc.ch. Also, the Adaptation Fund is channelling funds to fostering climate change adaptation in Honduras and Nicaragua and is taking into consideration the DRM system (see https://www.adaptation-fund.org)

Latin American Experience in Combining Disaster Risk Management with Poverty Reduction

Combining disaster risk management with social policy is becoming an important part of the disaster prevention agenda in Latin America. More and more policymakers are aware of the need to understand the root causes of vulnerability to natural hazards. People’s vulnerability is linked to poverty, livelihoods, unequal access to assets and services and social protection schemes. Therefore, disaster risk is not only about being exposed to hazards but also about people and institutions’ coping capacities in the light of increasing extreme natural events such as hurricanes and earthquakes. In order to really reduce disaster risk, governments are starting to design programmes that integrate factors that generate poverty with risk reduction measures. This recognition opens good opportunities to mainstream DRR with sectoral actions aiming to foster urban development.

This policy brief highlights a crucial issue for implementing effective DRM: development patterns that have caused poverty over the years, social exclusion and marginality have to be changed in order to strengthen systems and people’s resilience. By placing the poverty cycle into the DRM model, the author unpacks components that an effective development policy should consider such as raising incomes, meeting basic needs and securing social protection. In order to exemplify how poverty contributes to disaster risk, the author refers to “underlying causes of risk” and focuses on poor people’s settlement in risk-prone areas and the measures to change that urban process. However, it would be analytically useful to mention not only the final policy outcome (re-settlement to other places) but to discuss first why poor people end up settling in insecure zones (root causes of risk) and then to give detail on policy interventions that would be attending and solving such risk causes. Let us bear in mind that, in many cases, resettlement has proven to be a bad measure since it is implemented as a reactive strategy that makes affected people more vulnerable to future hazards. In this sense, one may ask: what are the “bad learnings” of resettlement? Why, in many cases, has resettlement failed to reduce poverty and vulnerability?

Research on this topic was carried out in Mexico from 2003 to 2008 in different states (Chiapas, Puebla, Yucatán and Veracruz) by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) in partnership with the Ministry of Social Development of Mexico (SEDESOL). The main objective was to evaluate SEDESOL´s programme on re-settlement. In general, findings showed that resettlements did not achieve the desired goals: 1) Re-settlements were not sufficiently populated by the affected people and in many cases houses remained inhabited; 2) Re-settlements did not manage to move affected people out of risk-prone areas, and 3) Re-settlements encouraged other people to settle in the disaster-prone areas. More information can be found at http://www.ciesas.edu.mx/proyectos/reubicaciones/index.html.

Regarding financing for disaster prevention in Mexico, there are two funds: FONDEN and FOPREDEN. FONDEN is the Natural Disaster Fund that, as the author asserts, provides funds for emergency and reconstruction actions. FOPREDEN is the Disaster Prevention Fund that provides funds for risk assessments, etc. It is important to make the distinction between the two. It is pertinent to say that both funds have been partially successful. For instance, close supervision of projects financed by FOPREDEN has been difficult to carry out, and municipalities and states that are granted this financing do not clearly report back on how they have used these resources and whether their actions have contributed to vulnerability reduction goals – as stated in FOPREDEN´s operational rules. The new federal administration will try to implement better enforcing schemes to improve accountability.

When it comes to insurance for disaster risk reduction, Mexico was the first country in Latin America to insure against hydrometeorologicaland catastrophic risks. The most recent Multi Cat Bond was issued between 2012 and 2013 and insured against earthquakes and hurricanes. It is important to highlight that FONDEN itself is insured with these Cat Bonds because when a high magnitude event strikes and causes great damage and loss, Mexico does not have sufficient financial reserves to compensate affected regions. Another important debate at international and regional level is the one relating to the insurance subscription capacities of poor people. In this sense, it is worth asking the following:

• What conditions can enable poor and vulnerable people to utilise insurance for reducing their risk?

• What are the best insurance schemes for climate change adaptation in poor communities?

This debate has been addressed in climate change adaptation literature. As a matter of guidance, readers might consult the different international insurance initiatives that are analysing disaster risk reduction in the context of climate change in low-income and mid-income countries. For example, the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative (MCII) is a major international consortium of reinsurance companies (Munich Re, Allianz Re, Price Waterhouse Coopers, AXA) and research institutes (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, United Nations University, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, among others). MCII main objectives are:

• Develop insurance-related solutions to help manage the impacts of climate change.

• Conduct and support pilot projects for the application of insurance-related solutions, in partnerships and through existing organisations and programmes.

• Identify success stories and disseminate information about the factors that are necessary to design and implement effective climate insurance-related mechanisms. The emphasis in such actions will be on developing countries, while simultaneously evaluating insurance designs that have been used in developed countries.

• Promote insurance approaches in cooperation with other organisations and initiatives within existing frameworks such as the United Nations system, International Financial Institutions, international donors, and the private sector.

• Identify and promote loss reduction measures for climate-related events. (MCII, 2013)

Policy reports and papers are posted in the MCII website and can be downloaded for free at http://www.climate-insurance.org.

Pushing Through Reform: Lima’s Disaster Risk Management Strategy

As with the other two previous policy briefs, it would be interesting and important to reflect on the problems and obstacles faced when implementing DRM Reform in Lima. The narrative gives the impression that everything is OK. What have the main shortcomings of this DRM reform been? Is Lima´s example replicable to other Latin American cities of more or less the same size and complexity? The answers may shed some light on DRM reform for other cities.

Fernando Aragón-Durand holds a PhD in Planning Studies (Development Planning Unit/University College London) specialising in risk, vulnerability and disaster in Latin American urban contexts. Dr. Aragón-Durand is expert member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change/United Nations (IPCC), Working Group II “Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation”, Chapter 8 Urban Areas Adaptation to Climate Change for the 5th Assessment Report. He is also Fellow of the Leadership for Environment and Development Program (www.lead.org). For the last 15 years Dr. Aragón-Durand has researched the social construction of disasters and risk at policy and community level. He is currently coordinating a research project on disaster risk management and climate change adaptation in South American cities funded by the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI).


Other ELLA knowledge materials relating to Disaster Risk Management in Cities:





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