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ECOSOC HOLDS DISCUSSION ON REDUCING VULNERABILITY, IMPROVING CAPACITIES AND MANAGING RISKS IN HUMANITARIAN OPERATIONS

16 July 2013

The Economic and Social Council this morning held a panel discussion on reducing vulnerability, improving capacities and managing risks: an approach for humanitarian and development actors to work together.

Masood Khan, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), said that this topic was chosen due to the fact that many suffered from protracted and recurring humanitarian crises as well as the impact of a growing number of challenges and risks.  Governments and communities formed the first line of response to humanitarian crises and should therefore lead such efforts, but it was evident that these factors, especially together with the expected increase in frequency and intensity of natural disasters, would increasingly challenge the capacity and resources of Governments and the resilience of communities.

Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and Moderator, said that 28.8 million persons were displaced by conflict in 2012 and over 106 million persons were displaced by natural disaster.  It was expected that numbers would keep rising because of climate change, rising poverty, water scarcity, and rapid, unplanned urbanization.  Significant increases in the demand for humanitarian aid would challenge the system and test its capacity to the maximum.  It was therefore necessary to take measures to strengthen the ability to anticipate, avoid and reduce risks, and build resilience for the future.

Muhammad Idrees, Director, Disaster Risk Reduction, Pakistan National Disaster Management Authority, said that Pakistan had a great variety of topographical features.  The effects of climate change were becoming increasingly visible and included the phenomenon of inconsistent monsoon behaviour, a rising number of extreme climate events, intense monsoon rains, and an increasing frequency of heavy downpours.  Remaining challenges included deficient long-term weather forecasting capabilities, an inadequate early warning dissemination system, and severe resource constraints.

Sukiman Mochtar Pratomo, Founder of Lintas Merapi Community Radio, Central Java, Indonesia, said that what made Merapi volcano dangerous was that many people, cities and villages were very near to it.  People had all agreed to do something about risk awareness and organised Jalin Merapi, a network of information.  Many different technologies and material had been brought together onto one website and one of its products was mapping.  Jalin Merapi was not an overnight process and had happened over many years, becoming conscience of the dangers and learning how to live in harmony with them.

Claus Sorensen, Director-General, ECHO, Brussels, Belgium, said that as was illustrated by the previous speakers, the notion of disaster risk reduction was alive and kicking and new technology was very relevant.  The focus on resilience had sharpened the minds of very many people.  The tricky part was how to actually transform sector policies on the development side and transform the way they offered humanitarian assistance to produce an irreversible change in the field, as well as transform the design of social policies.  This was full of pitfalls and it was not easy to match these two ways of operation.

Nick Bostrom, Director of Future of Humanity Institute and Director of the Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, Oxford University, United Kingdom, said that every day 150,000 persons died in the world, so the total number of persons dying in disasters might not seem as high in comparison.  They had to do their best with their given resources, so it was important to become quantitative, count lives, and quantify how much they paid for each life they saved with different interventions.  It was difficult to quantify the level of existential risk, but even the slightest reduction they could make in that regard would count.  
         
Participating in the discussion were the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Sweden, Indonesia, the European Union, Benin, Switzerland, Norway, Gabon and the World Bank.

The Economic and Social Council will resume its work on Wednesday, 17 July at 10 a.m. to hold a panel discussion on promoting humanitarian innovation for improved response. 

Panel Discussion on Reducing Vulnerability, Improving Capacities and Managing Risks: an Approach for Humanitarian and Development Actors to Work Together

MASOOD KHAN, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that this topic was chosen due to the fact that many countries suffered from protracted and recurring humanitarian crises as well as the impact of a growing number of challenges and risks, such as climate change, poverty, and rapid unplanned urbanization and population growth in disaster-prone areas.  Governments and communities formed the first line of response to humanitarian crises and should therefore lead such efforts, but it was evident that these factors, especially together with the expected increase in frequency and intensity of natural disasters, would increasingly challenge the capacity and resources of Governments and the resilience of communities.  Moreover, this challenge highlighted the shortcoming of the current system that was primarily based on response and stressed the need for a more effective, proactive approach.  It was against this backdrop that the Secretary-General underscored in his report that Governments and humanitarian and development actors needed to work in ways that reduced and managed the risk of crises, rather than simply respond to their impact.  This required a better understanding of the risks and vulnerabilities and entailed joint risk analysis, planning and programming as well as investing in capacity to analyse risks.  It was important, the report argued, to invest in building the capacity of national and sub-national Governments and local communities to better anticipate, prepare, respond and recover from crises.

How could humanitarian and development actors work better together with national and sub-national Governments, local communities and other stakeholders to jointly and systematically analyse and manage risks and reduce vulnerabilities?  How could Governments and communities lead and contribute to these efforts?  How should international actors build national and local capacities for risk management?  What would a system oriented around risk management look like at different levels and how exactly could this be achieved?  Today they had a distinguished panel to further explore these ideas. 

VALERIE AMOS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and discussion moderator, said that 28.8 million persons were displaced by conflict in 2012 and over 106 million persons were displaced by natural disaster.  It was expected that numbers would keep rising because of climate change, rising poverty, water scarcity, and rapid, unplanned urbanization.  Significant increases in the demand for humanitarian aid would challenge the system and test its capacity to the maximum.  It was therefore necessary to take measures to strengthen the ability to anticipate, avoid and reduce risks, and build resilience for the future.  Developing strategies for livelihood support, insurance mechanisms, and plans to improve support capacity when disasters hit were crucial.  Ms. Amos regretted that risk management and disaster preparedness activities were chronically underfunded, and said that appropriate funding channels should be found.  Panellists this morning would identify new ways to reduce vulnerability, improve risk analysis, and boost planning and resilience-building activities, and would recommend measures in that regard.  A telephone poll would be open throughout the session.   The question asked was: “The greatest benefit of a risk management approach was to help…”.  The four answers to choose from were: a) identify and tackle the root causes of humanitarian disasters, b) rally critical stakeholders around a common agenda, c) anticipate, prepare for and respond to humanitarian disasters in a cost effective manner d) reduce the human and economic cost of humanitarian disasters.  Answers should be sent by text message and results would be announced by the end of the meeting.    

MUHAMMAD IDREES, Director, Disaster Risk Reduction, Pakistan, said that Pakistan had a great variety of topographical features, including glaciers and mountains, which posed several challenges to people in terms of natural disasters.  For example, glacial leak outburst flooding was one of the natural disasters which threatened large numbers of the population.  Tsunamis in the coastal areas, earthquakes, flooding and landslides, forest fires, industrial accidents and oil spills were also threatening local populations.  The effects of climate change were becoming increasingly visible and included the phenomenon of inconsistent monsoon behaviour, a rising number of extreme climate events, intense monsoon rains, and an increasing frequency of heavy downpours. 

In the past, policy-level focus on disasters, the absence of sustainable institutional arrangements to address the complete spectrum of disasters, and disaster management were viewed in complete isolation from mainstream development efforts.  A deadly earthquake in 2005, which killed 73,000 persons, changed things and drew attention to the lack of hazard and risk assessment for informed planning and to the limited awareness and capacity among local communities.  This resulted in a transition from a reactive to a proactive system, which included a new, effective disaster management system covering the entire spectrum of activities in response to humanitarian disasters.  Remaining challenges included deficient long-term weather forecasting capabilities, an inadequate early warning dissemination system, and severe resource constraints.  

SUKIMAN MOCHTAR PRATOMO, Founder of Lintas Merapi Community Radio, Central Java, Indonesia, said that volcano Merapi was located on the island of Java, in proximity to many urban centres.  What made it a dangerous volcano was that many people, cities and villages were very near to it.  People had all agreed to do something about risk awareness and organised Jalin Merapi, a network of information.  The cycle was a four-year cycle and there were threats, such as pyroclastics flow, lava flows and mud flows.  There was agricultural, sanding mining and cattle-rearing activity around Merapi.  With regards to public media exposure of the 2010 Merapi eruption, according to communities there was often exaggeration and wrong information about what was going on.  What was also deplored by local humanitarians and volunteers was that the public media reporting was geared towards its own interest. 

Jalin Merapi was erected in 2006 and one of the main driving forces of the network was pre-establishment since the nineties of hundreds of volunteers from communities.  In 2013 there were more than 3,000 such volunteers standing by.  It worked with the local Government and local and national non-governmental organizations.  Many different technologies and material had been brought together onto one website.  One of its products was mapping.  In 2010 it mapped and monitored the needs of camps for internally displaced persons.  The major lessons learned from 2006 to 2010 in particular included that Jalin Merapi was very flexible and collaborated with all stakeholders which was important, and that because of public verification there was a need for speed, accuracy and trust and this had increased over the years.  Technology would not change the world.  Trained volunteers were needed who were able to use technology efficiently.  Jalin Merapi was not an overnight process and had happened over many years, becoming conscience of the dangers and learning how to live in harmony with them.

CLAUS SORENSEN, Director-General, ECHO, Brussels, Belgium, said that as was illustrated by the previous speakers, the notion of disaster risk reduction was alive and kicking and new technology was very relevant.  Regarding the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, he had gone to the Sahel a couple of months ago and seen many different things.  One of the most dramatic episodes encountered was a visit to a nutrition centre for severely malnourished children.  The strange thing was he had gone to the region after being told that the harvest in November-January was much higher than in the previous two years.  What he saw in the nutrition centre was that the number of admissions was higher than in the two previous years.  What was going on?  He visited two or three villages, and then decided to see how grains were stocked.  Many huts were empty.  The one full hut was not owned by the village.  Most farmers had sold their land to rich people in the neighbouring towns and sold their stocks, just to get by.  Something much more than a humanitarian intervention was needed.  This was what resilience was about, the mobilisation of humanitarian and development actors to work together and trying to be clever. 

They had to make sure that there was a joint-up risk assessment and also make sure that in national development plans, the Government had to give priority to the most critical sectors.  On complimentarity among donors, they had to talk to each other, join-up and decide who was covering what and where.  The focus on resilience had sharpened the minds of very many people.  The tricky part was how to actually transform sector policies on the development side and transform the way they offered humanitarian assistance to produce an irreversible change in the field, as well as transform the design of social policies.   Work was being carried out throughout the Sahel on national resilience plans, which would be sub-components of the national development plans.  This was full of pitfalls however.  It was not easy to match these two ways of operation.  

NICK BOSTROM, Director of Future of Humanity Institute and Director of the Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, Oxford University, said that every day 150,000 persons died in the world, so the total number of persons dying in disasters might not seem as high in comparison.  They had to do their best with their given resources, so it was important to become quantitative, count lives, and quantify how much they paid for each life they saved with different interventions.  That way they could see how many lives in total they could save by using all of their resources.  By a realistic calculation, they could save a life for around $1,000.  Concerning resilience, Mr. Bostrom said that it was better to try and prevent the problem instead of focusing on how to deal with it when it happened.  It would make sense to develop a global system dealing with global disasters, for example pandemics, through globally coordinated programmes.  Moreover, regulations for even seemingly small things could make a difference in the world and could help to put those issues on the global agenda.  Non-human animals and future generations were two issues which should be dealt with.  Mr. Bostrom said that it was difficult to quantify the level of existential risk, but even the slightest reduction they could make in that regard would count.             

United Kingdom said that building resilience was a top priority and that its Department of International Development had devised disaster resilience programmes.  Studies had concluded that every dollar spent on resilience in Kenya saved over 9 dollars in humanitarian assistance offered later.  Multi-risk assessment was the foundation of a good risk management approach.  What were some practical ways of improving multi-risk assessment? 

Canada said that looking at things through the lens of resilience had been very helpful in the past three years in order to decrease the social and political disruption in crisis situations.  The more they extended the funding to their humanitarian partners the more they might be overstretching the humanitarian system.  How could the international community tackle that problem?  The role that risk insurance could play in helping countries to tackle disasters should be discussed too.  

Japan said that building resilience was an important priority for it.  To prepare for disaster and reduce damage it was vital to take comprehensive steps to create a disaster-resilient society.  A risk reduction perspective had to be incorporated into the development stage and it was key that a wide range of stakeholders collaborated on this.  The experience presented of the central Javan case really gave a clear illustration of such good practice.  Japan strongly hoped that an effective humanitarian and development collaboration could be achieved.

Sweden reiterated the importance of building resilience and a long-term approach was needed as well as joint efforts.  On risk vulnerability analysis, this was a very important starting point and they needed better and more transparent data-sharing.  There was a need for more flexible and predictable funding.  There was no need for a new mechanism but rather strengthening of existing ones.  Could more concrete examples be given on what worked and lessons learned on joint efforts?  Were there any thoughts on a funding architecture that was more fit than this one?

Indonesia shared a bit of what it had been doing in reducing vulnerabilities and increasing resilience.  It was aware that it was located in one of the more disaster prone areas in the world and local governments and communities were always at the forefront in facing the Government.  It had developed a programme called Disaster Resilient Villages.  A series of capacity-building programmes were carried out.  There were now villages with varied levels of resilience.  Good practices had also been shared with countries in the region. 

CLAUS SORENSEN, Director-General, ECHO, Brussels, Belgium, said that if they were to consider a new aid architecture, that had to be done in a concerted fashion.  Concerning the question posed by Canada about overstretch, he said that that was inevitable.  In any case, staying on the ground slightly longer was beneficial because it showed that humanitarian support did not end as soon as the disaster had passed.  Regarding the need to measure resilience, Mr. Sorensen said that it was extremely difficult to identify reliable indicators.  It was encouraging to note that in the Sahel region, food security and agriculture had now been chosen as priority sectors by several countries benefitting from funding from Europe for improving their infrastructure.       

MUHAMMAD IDREES, Director, Disaster Risk Reduction, Pakistan, said that there was good cooperation with the World Meteorological Organization but it was still difficult to improve long-term weather forecasting capabilities in Pakistan.  In addition, there were certain hazards which were very difficult to predict and it was hard to have a good idea of the impact which they might have on the county’s population and infrastructure.  Pakistan was benefiting from lessons learnt, particularly in resilience-building.  As a result of lessons learnt after the 2005 earthquake, Pakistan had established specific teams to look after the issues and concerns of women, ageing persons, children and other vulnerable groups.  Concerning funding, Pakistan was sensitive to that issue and believed that without funding and resilience-building it would be difficult to achieve much.  At least two per cent of Pakistan’s development funds would be allocated to resilience-building.

SUKIMAN MOCHTAR PRATOMO, Founder of Lintas Merapi Community Radio, Central Java, Indonesia, said that in 2010 one of the achievements had been the management of camps of internally displaced persons by the evacuees themselves, as well as the ability to evacuate their cattle.  Turning to donors and aid agencies, they should try to pay attention to the capacities of the communities, not just their vulnerabilities.  Advocacy for preparedness was needed.  Turning to media images, communities were not merely objects of disasters but often the subjects, and were the ones that often overcame difficulties that came with disaster.  It was also important that channels of information from communities to non-governmental organizations and governments and vice-versa work together.  Information and communication data channels should be looked at.  For a few years now, Japanese professionals had often paid visits to the Radio and experiences were shared.  Mr. Pratomo would also be making a visit to Japan.

NICK BOSTROM, Director of Future of Humanity Institute and Director of the Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, Oxford University, United Kingdom, said that in so far as resilience was just a proxy for development, there was no concern.  It was agreed that although measurement was very difficult, it was still very important and was something that they could and should be doing more often.  To the extent that effectiveness of intervention could be quantified, a person could begin to do experiments, try different interventions, and bring in more outside actors.  They could look at modelling techniques used in the private sector in terms of insurance.

European Union said that it remained a major proponent of the resilience approach, and that better alignment and coordination could lead to better anticipation of crisis conditions and a more effective response to disasters.  Factors increasing vulnerability included food and security issues, economic hazards and poor democratic governance.  How could they find better synergies between all the different work streams?

Benin said that the least developed countries were the most vulnerable.  How could they anticipate disasters when disasters were multiplying and the fragility of those countries was increasing?  How did Pakistan go about coordinating things at the level of United Nations specialized agencies and in terms of assistance provided on a bilateral basis?  Benin could learn a lot from Pakistan’s approach.

Switzerland said that capacitating all layers of State authorities responsible for responding to disasters was critical and the panellists’ presentations were good examples of how to have an effective response to disasters.  How could risk analysis and risk management be improved and what key steps should be taken in that respect?  What were the main gaps that donors should fill in order to support more effectively national agendas? 

Norway said that risk and vulnerability were key issues.  However, it was a challenge if these issues were primarily discussed in a humanitarian context, since the humanitarian actors did not have the means to address them in a sustainable way.  How could they use the preparation for the World Humanitarian Summit to actively engage with the development community?  Preparedness and disaster risk reduction were underfunded.  They needed to engage a broader range of actors and find more effective funding mechanisms.  What needed to be done from a humanitarian perspective to increase funding for preparedness and disaster-risk reduction?

Gabon said that it applauded the work done by humanitarian workers on the ground and the role of social media in the management of disasters as well as providing humanitarian responses.  On disaster prevention, attention was called to the strengthening of adaptation to climate change and protection of forests, protection from desertification and soil erosion, as well as famine.  The preservation of the environment was absolutely crucial.  Gabon supported the Green Belt Initiative.

World Bank said that the World Development Report was a lot more than a publication but dictated policy for years to come.  The report was still under development.  The title of the 2013 report would be ‘managing risk for development’.  Some of the main messages were that they all needed to shift from unplanned response to systematic management.  Identifying risk was not enough.  Governments had a critical role in managing systematic risks.  An enabling environment and shared action were key messages in this ‘managing risks for development’ issue. 

CLAUS SORENSEN, Director-General, ECHO, Brussels, Belgium, said that he agreed with the point raised by Benin and hoped that in the Sahel region sustainable agricultural development would be developed.  The issue of deforestation raised by Gabon was also an important point which required further attention. 

MUHAMMAD IDREES, Director, Disaster Risk Reduction, Pakistan, said that coordination work with international partners was mainly conducted at the federal level in Pakistan.  All United Nations specialized agencies and donors that reviewed trends and challenges participated in the coordination work.  Similar systems were operating at the regional and provincial levels.  There should be close linkages between sustainable development and disaster management. 

SUKIMAN MOCHTAR PRATOMO, Founder of Lintas Merapi Community Radio, Central Java, Indonesia, said that the Radio was the ownership of the whole community and could be used for anything which was considered useful or efficient in accordance with what was discussed amongst the community.  The interest of a community probably changed from place to place according to the environment and needs of those communities.  There was room for community creativity to be broadcast and in that vision, which included awareness and consciousness of and disaster preparedness, and no problem was seen in generating funding. 

NICK BOSTROM, Director of Future of Humanity Institute and Director of the Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, Oxford University, United Kingdom, responding to Benin’s question, said that for the purposes of quantifying in the context of allocation of resources or selecting produce in humanitarian aid, they could instead of speaking of cost benefit, speak of cost-effective analysis and side-track the issue of giving absolute value to human life.  It was not clear that human life was the best metric to use. 

VALERIE AMOS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and discussion moderator, in concluding remarks, said that they should clarify through regional consultations some of the issues concerning the humanitarian implications of processes and make sure that those views were fed into related events such as the international forum.  Ms. Amos thanked the panellists for their comments and said that it was useful to hear about the different approaches of different countries with regard to mainstreaming humanitarian efforts into Governmental activities.  Humanitarian workers, Governments and local communities needed to analyse and plan together so as jointly to make use of their different capacities.  The telephone poll had decided, by a large margin, that the greatest benefit to humanitarian reduction was to identify and tackle the root causes of humanitarian disasters.


For use of the information media; not an official record

ECOSOC13/024E


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