ISSUE 38 July 2007

Humanitarian Exchange Magazine

Christian Aid and disaster risk reduction

by Sarah Moss, Christian Aid

Disasters resulting from natural hazards, such as droughts, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and cyclones, are widespread in many developing countries where Christian Aid partners work, and are identified as a major threat to sustainable development and poverty reduction. This is set to worsen as the frequency and intensity of disasters increase due to the effects of climate change, chronic poverty and increasing population pressure. Christian Aid has been involved in many disaster responses – providing relief and assistance to affected communities after disaster strikes. However, like many others we recognise the importance of trying to do more to prevent these humanitarian situations happening on such a vast scale. There are many ways to help poor families protect their lives and ways of living in the face of such risk – this is what disaster risk reduction (DRR) is all about.


Community-based disaster risk reduction

Christian Aid and its partners have worked for many years on projects rooted in the community, which aim to manage emergencies effectively and reduce these communities’ vulnerability to future disasters. These projects are often referred to as community-based or community-centred DDR.

The benefits of inclusive community-based disaster risk reduction projects are generally acknowledged in the development and humanitarian fields. Communities themselves understand their local context and their people, and are best placed to act when something happens, to save lives and livelihoods, often searching for and rescuing people before outside help arrives, and passing on local knowledge and techniques to adapt their ways of life to circumvent major risks and hazards. Christian Aid and its partner organisations have supported many successful community-based DRR initiatives over the past ten years. Whilst these have had enormous benefits for the communities concerned, especially in the face of devastating disasters and the complacency of governments, over the past few years we have also noted the limitations of this approach when trying to meet the global development challenge presented by disasters, in particular climate change.


Meeting the global development challenge

We have become more aware of the limitations of what can be accomplished when operating on a very local scale. Despite many positive outcomes from community-centred DRR, we are less sure about how to scale-up these successful risk reduction activities to find lasting ways to help more people and communities at risk. (The term ‘scaling-up’ is taken here to mean increasing the size, coverage and long-term effectiveness of DRR activities, so as to overcome the overarching challenge posed by disaster risk to developing countries, and achieving municipal and national results, rather than simple and singular project objectives.) Replicating good practice to meet the needs of more and more people and contribute to safer societies and a safer world presents a major challenge, calling for a holistic, multi-sector approach.


The role of government and civil society

The root causes of people’s vulnerability to disasters can often be found in national and global political, social and economic structures and trends: weak planning and building codes, inadequate policies governing civil protection and disaster response, inadequate international policies on greenhouse gas reduction and climate change, a lack of national welfare system or safety nets, indebtedness and aid dependency. Therefore, over the long term ensuring that people’s lives and livelihoods are resilient to disaster involves much more than community-based work: it involves creating a supportive political and legislative environment in which good initiatives can thrive, be sustained and be multiplied. It involves a multi-sector and multi-level approach, as laid out in the UN Hyogo Framework for Action, and the cooperation of national and international bodies. But this needs to be a participative process which involves civil society as much as government – all citizens have a role to play, and individuals can take responsibility for different actions. In short, the sustainable scale-up of community-centred DRR work depends on governments and civil society working together. This inclusive approach has become central to Christian Aid’s DRR work with local partners through the ‘Building Disaster Resilient Communities Project’, funded by DFID.


Good practice in disaster risk reduction

Over the past decade, we have learned through experience that the most effective DRR projects meet the following criteria:

    1. They are based on a thorough analysis of the particular risk and vulnerability environment, and an understanding of the people affected.
    2. They encourage civil society and governance actors to participate in the analysis of risk, so that DRR activities ensure that the needs of citizens are acknowledged and addressed fairly.
    3. They aim to develop stronger links between community-centred and government- led DRR initiatives.
    4. They attempt to bridge the gaps between micro, meso and macro-level DRR activities in terms of transfer of information, assigning responsibility, funding and allocating resources.
    5. They are set up to encourage a facilitating environment to promote sustainability, scale-up and the replication of good practice.
    6. They promote greater interaction and participation between community members and governing authorities, are linked to the bigger picture, are resourced appropriately and are implemented effectively.


The role of NGOs

NGOs should focus on the longer-term goal of municipal and national results rather than simple and singular project objectives or internal organisational goals, which have often been the focus in the past. This might involve distinct project timelines, but should also fit into a long-term plan which is congruent with local wishes, and in line with local visions for the future. It is important to see DRR as a long-term process that requires sustained attention, even if resources, training and skills requirements may change over time.

NGOs can support this aim in the following ways:

  • provide training and awareness raising of the issues;
  • develop collaborative strategies to promote scale-up and the replication of good practice;
  • support the rolling out of the Hyogo Framework;
  • raise the profile of DRR as a policy and advocacy concern, with the aim of creating a favourable environment for sustainable DRR (restructuring processes and reforming institutions and legislation);
  • aim to increase the resources deployed and the range of actors working for the common goal of risk reduction;
  • provide facilitation or technical advice and assistance where requested;
  • help to link donor funding for DRR with good-practice initiatives; and
  • promote coherent and sustainable solutions to disasters.


Community-led policy monitoring

One way to encourage governance actors to acknowledge the needs of their citizens is through community-led policy monitoring (CPM). In CPM, communities are at the centre of the action – identifying needs and action plans, and challenging the government to provide the right enabling environment and resources for citizens to reduce their risk to disaster.

In early 2007, Christian Aid, CAFOD and Trocaire released a joint publication entitled Monitoring Government Policies: A Toolkit for Civil Organisations in Africa. This is a practical tool to help local organisations plan how they can monitor different government policies. Although written for use in Africa, the majority of the toolkit contains generic information that could be used by any civil society group seeking advice on how to undertake policy monitoring.

With reference to this tool kit and the Hyogo Framework for Action, Christian Aid has produced a series of short guidance notes to help civil society organisations and communities to better monitor, influence and secure commitment to the Hyogo Framework at the local level by:

  • documenting and analysing the different approaches and tools for community-led policy monitoring that will be needed to implement the Hyogo Framework for Action; and
  • making specific recommendations for achieving effective and successful policy monitoring and mainstreaming of DRR at a local level, based on lessons learnt from existing policy monitoring initiatives and case studies.


References

Christian Aid, Don’t Be Scared Be Prepared: How Disaster Preparedness Can Save Lives and Money, 2005, www.christianaid.org.uk/indepth/512_dispreparedness/index.htm.

Sarah Moss, In Harm’s Way: Kobe 2005, 17 January 2005, www.christianaid.org.uk/indepth/501kobi.

Christian Aid, In Debt to Disaster: What Happened to Honduras after Huricane Mitch, 1999, http://www.christianaid.org.uk/indepth/9910inde/indebt2.htm.

B. Desai and Sarah Moss, Overexposed: Building Disaster-resilient Communities in a Changing Climate, Christian Aid, 2007.


Sarah Moss is Disaster Risk Reduction Unit Manager at Christian Aid. Her email address is: smoss@christian-aid.org. This article benefited from contributions by Bina Desai, Jacob Nyirongo, Rayappa Kancharla, Harold Paul, Umida Tulieva, Claudina Reyes, Charles Sarkar and Bol Yuol. The guidance notes, and a DRR community training video (Facing the Storm: What You and Your Communities Can Do about Disasters) and referenced documents will be available on the Christian Aid website (www.christian-aid.org). They can also be obtained by contacting smoss@christian-aid.org.

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