Revisiting Rio+20: some concernsby M Mizanur Rahman
WHEN more people and assets are located in areas of high risk in the world, the Rio+20 Summit recognise disaster as one of the major challenge now. The proportion of world population living in flood-prone river basins has increased by 114 per cent, while those living on cyclone-exposed coastlines have grown by 192 per cent over the past 30 years. Over half of the world’s large cities, with populations ranging from 2 to 15 million, are currently located in areas highly vulnerable to seismic activity. (ISDR, 2011)
Rio+20 identified seven critical issues for the world now, when disaster is the first concern and the others are oceans, water, food, cities, energy and job. It reminds one of the World Conference on Disaster Reduction of 2005, the objective of which translated into three strategic goals, five priorities for action and four cross-cutting issues.
The three strategic goals are the integration of disaster risk reduction in sustainable development policies and planning; development and strengthening of institutions, mechanisms and capacities to build resilience to hazards; and the systematic incorporation of risk reduction approaches into the implementation of emergency preparedness, responses and recovery programmes. The five priorities for action are a. ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and a local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation; b. identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning; c. use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels; d. reduce the underlying risk factors and e. strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels.
This summit comes with some common visions expressed in the ‘The Future We Want’, where disaster risk reduction highlights some important points and also deviates a bit in focus, from the declaration of 2005. It expresses its support for working in line with the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 and the importance of DRR for sustainable development and poverty reduction. It also invites countries to give proper emphasis of the DRR issues. The declaration notes: ‘We invite governments at all levels as well as relevant sub-regional, regional and international organizations to commit to adequate, timely and predictable resources for disaster risk reduction in order to enhance resilience of cities and communities to disasters, according to their own circumstances and capacities’ (The Future We Want, 2012).
In order to reduce economic and social damages including the loss of human life, it emphasises on strengthening the early warning system for disasters. At the same time, it encourages ‘donors and the international community to enhance international cooperation in support of disaster risk reduction in developing countries as appropriate through technical assistance, technology transfer as mutually agreed, capacity building and training programmes.’
It also talks about the inter-relation, coordination and incorporation of DRR and climate change adaptation issues in the development programmes. While formulating any development programme, it is important that countries take DRR issues into consideration.
In brief, it is all the Earth Summit talks about the DRR issues and the importance of these if we really want to have a better future promoted through sustainable development.
Rio+20 talks about a DRR approach where the major responsibilities lie with the governments. This is all about the planning, policy formulating, investing for DRR. It is usual that when policymakers take decisions, it is centred on their area and they see things they are associated with. Absolutely, there is no harm with it and often top-down approach works more effectively especially countries like Bangladesh. For DRR, the main responsibilities go upon the government but it is not confined in policymaking and implementing though there are some differences in intensity. For an example, if we want to reduce urban risk especially earthquake vulnerabilities, it is more appropriate for the governments of poor or developing countries to be stringent in implementing the building codes and making people aware and compel to comply with the codes. In the same time, it can come up with a very specific urban planning, violation of which strictly prohibited. Besides these, strengthening the capacity of support department of governments for any emergency is also mandatory. So, it is more about the top down approach taken by the government. Of course, I do not disagree that people’s participation is also very important and they must cooperate the government.
But if we take rural risks into consideration, the scenario is a bit different. Here, especially for the countries like Bangladesh, though the governments play an important role, strengthening common people’s capacity is also very important but unfortunately it has not been highlighted in the Rio+20 agenda. It has not insisted governments to increase capacities of the community people. Yes, it has emphasised on increasing resource allocation for DRR and certainly, it becomes the responsibility of the governments to make the ways for the community people in taking the lead in DRR especially in the rural context.
Now let us have a look at our position in reducing disaster risk in the country. I have noted earlier that the Earth Summit talks about giving more resource allocation for the DRR issues. And it becomes more vital when it is Bangladesh.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2010, an average of 8,241 people died each year in 244 cases of extreme weather conditions in Bangladesh, with the damage amounting to over $2 billion a year and a GDP loss of 1.81%, during 1990-2008 (The Daily Star, October 7, 2011). Again, if we see the risk profile of the country we get the below picture:
The risk profile of the country shows that comparatively, we are more vulnerable to urban disaster risks like flood and cyclone when the risk of other ferocious disasters like tsunami and earthquake is not negligible.
I conducted a study in the northern part of Bangladesh for Islamic Relief Worldwide, where I found maximum people were assuming that there would be a severe flood in this year. They assumed it by using their indigenous knowledge that they receive from the nature and by analysing the trends of natural events. And now the water level in maximum of the rivers is rising in a bit earlier, which also is making people afraid of having a massive flood in this year.
On our national budget, the ADP allocation for Disaster Management and Relief Division is only Tk 197 crore whereas it was Tk 256 crore last year. Fortunately, there was no severe flood or any other disaster last year and perhaps so, the government has allocated this money but we should have been prepared for this year.
However, as the Rio Earth Summit focuses much on the top-down approach, we can hope for the implementation of Disaster Management Act now. Again, along with law formulation, I am more enthusiastic to see proper measure from the government in local level infrastructural development, capacity building of the local level authorities and mass awareness in grassroots level which all will contribute to effective risk reduction of Bangladesh.
M Mizanur Rahman is a development researcher.
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