Disaster risk management

The vulnerability of poor and developing countries to natural disasters needs no introduction. But with climate change threatening to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, the call from the international community to focus on preventative and protective measures rather than emergency relief is only getting louder. The challenge is to identify what measures can be practically adopted to reduce the impact of these events and engage measures which contribute to change over the longer-term and work towards achieving sustainable livelihoods.

While strict building control regulations to protect properties against earthquake damage can be enforced in more developed economies, they simply aren’t viable where urbanisation is taking place at a rapid rate, where financial resources are sometimes limited, and where technology transfer is constrained. Restricting settlement on a flood plain might seem a logical step to avoid homes and livelihoods being washed away, but would cut access to fertile land.

What’s needed, therefore, is a risk management approach, built on a clear understanding of the potential damage that extreme weather or other natural disasters could cause, and the likelihood and frequency of such events occurring. This approach takes into account the underlying fact that while events such as earthquakes, floods and tropical storms are themselves natural phenomena, their impact is a direct reflection of human activity. Therefore risk assessment must take into account the potential human cost of a disaster – which is typically much higher in the poorest areas.

Based on that assessment, governments are then in a position to take practical steps to address the risks: ensuring, for instance, that key infrastructure assets (such as power stations) are located away from high risk areas, or that transport systems include alternative routes. One approach that has been adopted in some cities is to incentivise communities to move away from the most vulnerable neighbourhoods – offering financial support to relocate or providing better housing. In Bogota, once the neighbourhood was cleared, the city government then planted a forest in the area to prevent future resettlement.

OPM has extensive experience in political economy analysis. The combination of understanding of the pressures on policy-makers and planners in developing countries, together with our technical expertise, makes us an ideal partner for governments and donors seeking to introduce disaster risk management approaches. As well as helping provide the comprehensive analysis of risk – using modelling and simulation techniques as well as bringing insights from around the globe, such as our recent study of governance and disaster risk reduction – we can also help design and implement pragmatic incentive programmes to support risk mitigation.