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Natural disasters

Great risks, huge challenges

by Peter Hauff

In brief

The WorldRiskIndex measures the threat of natural disasters, taking into account the ability of institutions and the quality of infrastructure in different countries

The WorldRiskIndex measures the threat of natural disasters, taking into account the ability of institutions and the quality of infrastructure in different countries

It is difficult to help countries with fragile statehood to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Extreme weather is becoming more frequent and causing ever more damage. The international donor community does not quite seem up to task. By Peter Hauff

Not only nature suffers when corral reefs are destroyed, rain forests cleared or rivers regulated. People need reefs, woods and wetlands for protection, for otherwise they become more exposed to devastating storms and floods. The WeltRisikoBericht 2012 (WorldRiskReport 2012) highlights this fact. It was recently published by the Alliance Development Works (“Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft”), an umbrella group of leading German non-governmental organisations.

The Alliance’s innovative World­RiskIndex assesses the extent to which 173 countries are in danger of natural catas­trophes, taking into account many relevant issues such as food security, the quality of roads and infrastructure in general and the availability of doctors, for example. Least developed countries are particularly challenged by natural catastrophes.

Janani Vivekananda from International Alert, a London-based indepen­dent organisation, demands that fragile states must be put in a position to respond to various events and risks according to their specific needs. In her view, donors are not sufficiently aware of what is at stake. She points out, for instance, that food aid made rice a staple food in Nepal, with the result of farms needing more water than is available because this specific crop needs more water than others.

Experts argue that, while the international community was willing to come up with record-level donations after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, it did not focus on the future. Early on, the German aid agency Welthungerhilfe recom­mended not only to rebuild the infrastructure, but to boost the island nation’s capacity for self-organised action too (see D+C/E+Z 2012/02, p. 48 f.). Welthungerhilfe’s appeal fell on deaf ears. Today, Ulrike von Pilar, who works for Doctors without Borders, considers it “a scandal” that Haiti still does not have a locally-based system to cope with a new outbreak of Cholera.

Civil society organisations, more­over, do not appreciate the impact of TV reporting. All too often, coverage of draughts, floods or earth quakes leads to donations, but that is not enough to ensure a better future. At a conference hosted by the Development and Peace Foundation (SEF) in Berlin in September, Marcus Oxley of the independent, London-based Global Network for Disaster Reduction said that it would often make more sense to support meaningful aid programmes that are less spectacular.

Work cut out for the EU

In view of ever more catastrophes, governments are under pressure to respond fast. The downside is that their leaders tend to no longer consider things in any holistic way, as the two European NGO umbrella associations VOICE and CONCORDE spell out in a recent paper on “Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development” (LRRD). They want EU development policy and humanitarian relief to complement one another. In regard to fragile states that are exposed to natural disasters, they call for
– comprehensive action plans with quantifiable LRRD targets,
– approaches to humanitarian relief that are in tune with the LRRD principles and
– more involvement of civil society organisations.

The challenges are huge. “We did not manage to prevent climate change,” says Marteen van Aalst of the International Red Cross, “so now we’ll have to repair the damage.”

Peter Hauff