A cost too high to bear!

There is a need of global commitment to redirect the resources to attain the goal of sustainable development for all

Shabnam Baloch April 14, 2015
The writer is a development professional working with Oxfam GB

Major natural disasters are capable of having stern negative short-run economic impacts. Disasters also leave inauspicious long-term consequences for economic growth, development and poverty diminution. Disasters chip away at development progress, encumber economic growth and intimidate food production and aggravate existing poverty conditions. At the national level, it may take numerous years for developing countries to recuperate from the consequences brought in by the disaster and be competent to re-invest resources in development.

Disasters are affecting the global population as a whole but they are more likely to affect vulnerable people in poor countries, often locking them into endemic poverty traps.  The strong recursive relationship between poverty and disasters cannot be ignored. The relationship is, however, multi-faceted and complex. It is also a dilemma that we consider an event as a disaster when there is a sudden happening in which our coping capacities are challenged. However, a disaster can be slow as well as sudden since it is a result of a combination of factors like hazards, vulnerability, capacity and exposure to risk.

Vulnerability to natural hazards is indomitable by a complex and dynamic set of factors, such as economic configuration, level of development, governance infrastructure and existing socioeconomic and policy environment. The need to link the pre and post disaster scenarios with development is critical. However, historically, the focus of interventions after a disaster event has always been on relief and emergency operations and socio-economic and policy environment has remained unfocussed to understand and address the structural causes.

There is hardly a second opinion that events afar our control may generate a disaster, the echelon of preparedness and response significantly determines the scope of torment incurred by the pretentious population. But, it is also true that there are many factors which can be positively influenced to lesser the impact of natural disasters. It is not exaggerated to say that the more economically empowered you are, the more resilient you are. There are numerous examples of how disasters of the same intensity have impacted countries of different economies. The level of economic development is a key determining factor for the vulnerability to disasters impact and capacity to recover.

According to the World Bank, there are several factors that affect a country’s vulnerability to natural disasters: its geographical size, the type of disaster, the strength and structure of its economy, and prevailing socioeconomic conditions. In a globalised economy, all these factors, as well as others, also play into how the world’s finances will be affected.

If we scrutinise the comparative advantage of pouring in the resources for responding to the disasters and in the preparatory measures to minimise the damaging effects including addressing the structural causes, the result will be in favour of later.

Additionally, natural disasters are potentially a reason for momentous budgetary pressures in a developing country like Pakistan whose economy is already under tremendous burden of debt and poverty.

Essentially, this is a time to start engaging with local communities in order to understand what their existing coping arrangements are and begin developing effective strategies to craft resilience. Indigenous knowledge, wisdom and practices will be of additional benefit while engaging in such a process.

It is equally crucial to know that it is not merely the matter of developing and implementing policies related with disaster management and risk reduction, it is a matter of overall governance and integration of these aspects into every walk of life. It is a matter of institutionalising this approach as a way of living. It has to be reflected in all our moves from top to bottom and from micro to macro levels. It requires strong political commitment, efficient and effective planning, and investment.

The upcoming time is more critical and requires non-negotiable commitment to make pre-disaster planning a priority in all national economic and development strategies and programmes.  Apart from that, there is a need of global commitment to rethink and redirect the efforts and resources to attain the goal of sustainable development for all.

Apparently, the cost of not taking this aspect into consideration while developing the policies and programmes would be too high to bear with. This would only be reversing the achievements attained in the name of development through efforts of the decades.

Optimistically, the progress is  conversely been observed in terms of  acknowledging and showing  the importance of integrating disaster risk reduction into reconstruction and development activities and re-thinking the unsustainable trends in disaster response and reconstruction expenditures. Consequently, the framework of intervention has shifted globally to a more comprehensive and integrated approach to disaster risk management that aims to link emergency relief with development.

The outcomes of these efforts are however yet to be seen. 

Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th,  2015.

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