2020 International Day for Disaster Reduction - Strengthening disaster risk governance in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific

The United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Ms. Mami Mizutori, underlined the importance of good governance in building disaster resilience and mitigating risk exposure, stating that “Good disaster risk governance can be measured by lives saved, fewer people affected and reduced economic losses.” Different sectors play an integral role in building a resilient society, as the principles of Disaster Risk Management (DRM) can guide policies regarding environmental protection, land use, infrastructure, education, and cross-cutting societal issues such as gender inclusion and citizen engagement. Good governance in DRM is critical in determining how successful countries are in preparing for and responding to disaster risks and at mitigating their impact. Governing institutions at the local, national, and regional levels need to be proactive in planning for and responding to these systemic disaster risks. 

In recent years, Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries have taken great strides in making their governing institutions more responsive and resilient to disaster risks. With technical assistance funded by the European Union through the ACP-EU Natural Disaster Risk Reduction (NDRR) Program, these countries have been improving their institutional capacities to respond to disasters and mitigate potential risks by promoting multi-sectoral DRM policies and reforms, embracing new technologies that improve the quality and accessibility of information, and empower voices that had been previously ignored when dealing with the socioeconomic repercussions of disasters.

ACP countries have been actively pursuing politicallegal and institutional reforms to provide more effective disaster risk mitigation and response. Strong disaster risk governance is dependent on the existence of clearly defined policies, contingencies, directives, and clear lines of coordination between government agencies. The government of Papua New Guinea, through its National Disaster Center (NDM) is conducting an extensive overview of its administrative and institutional arrangements for disaster planning, as well as encouraging community-based resilience. With technical assistance provided by the ACP-EU NDRR “Strengthening the policy and institutional framework for DRM in Papua New Guinea” project, the NDM has been identifying policy gaps and priorities, as well as integrating DRM considerations into Papua New Guinea’s economic development. These improvements in disaster risk governance are helping national stakeholders design not just more effective disaster responses, but also longer-term strategies to strengthen resilience and mitigation efforts.

Good disaster risk governance can also be developed through harnessing technological advances that improve the quantity and quality of data as well as its accessibility, thereby democratizing the DRM process. Better access to higher quality data democratizes the DRM process as it becomes more transparent and promotes open access, involving and empowering local communities and civil society groups. For this reason, the “Disruptive technologies for disaster management in Africa” project is a prime example of how advances in data mapping, drone technology, and artificial intelligence benefit strong disaster risk governance, as city authorities in Africa are working together with disaster risk experts to identify risks to rapidly expanding urban settlements. The potential these technologies represent to revolutionize urban data collection attracts considerable interest, and specialists in geospatial data collection and analysis are getting involved in the DRM process as a result of this project’s emphasis on providing an inclusive and transparent approach. Disaster risk governance that values grassroots inputs and participation from civil society is likely to be more sustainable and provide better response services.

Gender inclusion in DRM has also become an essential component of disaster risk governance, since women and girls are affected differently by disasters when compared to men and boys due to inherent gender biases. Access to recovery services is uneven, women and girls are at greater risk from physical and sexual violence in emergency situations, and women’s voices are often left out of the decision-making process in the aftermath of disasters. This challenge is being addressed in Haiti by the Civil Protection Directorate and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Women’s Rights, in coordination with other women’s associations including UN Women. These institutions are identifying gaps in gender-specific disaster preparedness and are proposing recommendations to address these inequalities, with support from the ACP-EU NDRR “Integrating gender and behavioral sensitive approaches to enhance DRM in Haiti” project. Initiatives such as these will ensure that disaster risk governance is gender responsive and thereby increasing the number of people who are protected by disaster prevention and response mechanisms.

Good governance for DRM must provide clear guidance, directives and policies for recovery in the aftermath of disasters and plan long-term strategies that strengthen resilience. Yet for it to be effective it must also be a democratic and transparent process that provides opportunities for grassroots engagement and greater inclusion of women and girls in DRM strategies. Improved governance in ACP countries such as in the examples shown above will reflect Ms. Mizutori’s statement on how the effectiveness of disaster risk governance can be measured and protect more lives, reduce the number of people affected by disaster events, and reduce economic losses.