Disaster risk governance is entering a critical period. Not only has it been suddenly and overwhelmingly put to the test by the COVID-19 pandemic, but this is also the cutoff year for Target E of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030), the first target to complete its action plan, which calls for a “substantial increase in the number of national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction by 2020.”
It could not be otherwise, therefore, that the focus this year on October 13, the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDRR), will be on good governance as a pathway to effective risk reduction. “COVID-19 and the climate emergency are telling us that we need clear vision, plans and competent, empowered institutions acting on scientific evidence for the public good,” says Mami Mizutori, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.
The robustness of the COVID-19 pandemic in all sectors has also sent a loud and clear message concerning governance: the risk is systemic, and some risks are increasingly acting in cohort with others to create a cascading impact on the entire system. Beyond the evident undermining of health systems, it is estimated that the GDP for Latin America and the Caribbean could fall by 9.1% in 2020, according to the United Nations report ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on Latin America and the Caribbean’. Moreover, the document foresees a rise of 5.4% in unemployment, 7% in poverty and 4.5% in extreme poverty as well as an increase of 4 million people experiencing a situation of acute food insecurity.
“It is fundamental that each country develops a strategy for analyzing and systematizing the response to COVID-19. Many countries surely need to update key risk governance aspects to foster a clear analysis of the systemic risk confronted by each country, but above all to enable a response to any sort of threat regardless of its source, duration or impact,” declares Ciro Ugarte, Director for Health Emergencies at the Regional Office of the Pan American Health Organization.
Governance leads the way
Extensive evidence indicates that good disaster risk governance springs from the collaboration and alliances among mechanisms and institutions to reduce disaster risk and pave the way toward sustainable development.
As an example, Uruguay’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic resonated throughout the entire region. Through the formation of a comprehensive body that brought together decision-makers, scientists and academics, it became possible to apply strategies and plans that shaped the management of the health crisis - only 1500 infections - and reduced the risk of the socio-economic threats that have shaken so many other countries. “The pandemic led to the establishment of various agreements and the beginning of a more holistic focus on risk. It also enhanced and deepened a culture of risk management and awareness,” asserts Sergio Rico, Director of Uruguay’s National Emergency System.
Science and technology have become key allies of good risk governance. The gathering of data and information allows for the construction of threat projections and risk scenarios intended to reduce the impact of disasters, especially in populations afflicted by poverty, exclusion, and inequality.
The Coordinating Center for Disaster Prevention in Central America and the Dominican Republic (CEPREDENAC) has taken advantage of the benefits of technology to strengthen disaster risk management in the region. Through the Information and Coordination Platform for the COVID-19 Emergency, a resource available through the web portal of the Central American Integration System (SICA), these countries consolidated information to complement national efforts, enhancing strategic focuses in the region.
“The digital platform focused on taking steps to characterize the three dimensions of disaster risk (exposure, vulnerability and resilience) in an effort to prevent the creation of new risks, reduce existing risks, increase resilience and create mechanisms that allow us to understand the pandemic’s impact on a regional level,” explains Claudia Herrera, CEPREDENAC Executive Secretary.
Herrera adds that comprehensive efforts are essential to the promotion of good governance to “move the region forward through a combination of work, ideas and experiences across governments and the private sector.”
The private sector in particular has been among the systems with the greatest need to rely on resilience during the pandemic. “The crisis affected demand and supply, increased cost of doing business, reduced working capital and human resource and caused a disruption in logistics and high cost of transportation,” stresses Lizra Fabien, Executive Director of the Dominica Association of Industry & Commerce (DAIC) and former President of the Network of Caribbean Chambers of Commerce (CARICHAM).
In this sense, the Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies (ARISE) has become the preferred platform for a robust private sector that can work hand-in-hand with the public sector in creating good governance. “This process of recuperation will also develop regional collaboration and implement the good practices we learn from one another to ensure that we come out of this crisis as a stronger region,” Fabien adds.
Working toward good governance
In this way, the COVID-19 pandemic and Target E of the Sendai Framework are together creating a favorable environment to improve governance in the region. As Ugarte says: “In times of crisis, it is necessary to continue to strengthen good governance in disaster risk reduction strategies at national, regional and world levels.”
“The most significant driver of disaster risk is weak governance. It is necessary to have clear objectives, plans, directives, and coordination across all sectors. All of us are responsible for reducing disaster risk, which is key to the success of the Sustainable Development Goals. We must build good governance to guarantee a prosperous and safe future,” emphasizes Raúl Salazar, Chief of the Americas/Caribbean Regional Office of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
Governance must take a broad and deep view of risks and their impact, taking into account their social construction. In its most basic and fundamental justification, it is on a par with life itself, concludes Mami Mizutori: “Good disaster risk governance can be measured by lives saved, fewer people affected and reduced economic losses.”