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9. Horizontal and Vertical Institutional Interactions at Local-, Meso-, and Macro Levels

Disaster risk mitigation is a cyclical, dynamic process that requires continuous adjustments, decision making and interaction at different yet interrelated levels and among a variety of institutions and actors, including individuals, households, communities, non-governmental organizations, market institutions, and government (World Bank, 2001; Mileti, 1999). Local institutions may thus appear on the scene at various stages; regrettably, not many case studies exist on the role they play or may play during the different phases or throughout the DRM cycle.

Following the latest earthquake in Gujarat (India), the decentralised and well coordinated nature of its relief distribution network enabled SEWA to provide adequate and timely post-disaster assistance. A three tier mechanism, with teams working from the village through the district to the state level, was adopted by the institution to carry out its earthquake response and assistance programme. At the community and district level, teams ensured that the distribution of relief materials was adequate and timely. At the State level - which in smaller countries could be said to correspond to the national level - mechanisms were established to ensure coordination with concerned actors such as officials from the Government control room and external aid cell, donors, United Nations agencies, NGOs, and the private sector. SEWA, an already much respected and inspiring institution, thus gave further proof of its logistical capacity and technical competence.

Demand-driven (and often project-confined) processes of participation do not always meet the supply-driven (and often top-down) processes of decentralisation, and in some cases both are mostly externally driven. Even in historically relatively more inward-looking countries such as China, Yongong et al. (1999) find for the North-West that “since the establishment of the household responsibility system, herders' groups are even playing important roles in risk management actively mediating between household and production team level. Village leaders and production team leaders play important roles in risk management, poverty alleviation and extension as agents of the administrative line agencies at the community level. They hold both coordinating and management functions during disaster emergencies as well as during disaster prevention and recovering periods. [Yet,] although the Chinese institutional reform was launched in 1998, the community organizations have not yet been reached by the reform taking place at the higher institutional levels” (pp. 7, 18)[10].

Helping to provide better access to information and its flow between different levels of the administrative system, in Orissa (India), some NGOs ran Legal Aid Centres with the aim of sensitising cyclone-affected people about their legal rights to compensation by government.

The authors of the report “Learning Lessons from the Cyclone” (IMM n.d.) describe constraints experienced by responding to disaster through local government in Orissa, India as follows: “Within most governments there are real difficulties in achieving integration between sectors at the policy making level. In India integrated planning does occur to a certain degree at the district levels where district and block level planning brings the line ministries together in a more coordinated and harmonised way. DfID India did encourage a more geographical basis for planning but this did not emerge. Had this been taken forward with support to develop proposals on a district-by-district basis it may have created the conditions required for the desired level of sectoral integration. This in turn would have been a significant opportunity to build experience and awareness within government of a more integrated and holistic approach which would have provided longer-term benefits in the implementation of the Western Orissa Livelihoods Project” (p32).

[10] They continue in pointing out that: “Although village leaders are not officials in the administrative system, they are the contact persons of county animal husbandry bureau at the community level. At the same time, they also serve as contact persons to herders” (p16). “Most of the village leaders and production team leaders [...] are socially well accepted persons who enjoy strong reputations in the community. They are important intermediaries since they have numerous institutional links with the township and higher level organizations. Moreover, they also maintain a wide social network of community actors and herders. The special social role played by community leaders and their important communication networks places them in key positions for carrying out horizontal and vertical coordination and management tasks related to risk prevention, disaster mitigation and emergencies” (p15).

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