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22. Linking Disaster Risk Mitigation with Long-Term Sustainable Rural Development

In the aftermath of the international development agencies’ responses to the 1980s African droughts and famines, and as acknowledged later in the mid-1990s, it was recognised that “relief assistance alone does not strengthen the capacity of poor people to cope with the next emergency” (WFP 1994). Realising the necessity of such a (stronger) linkage between relief and development efforts, the UN sought a system-wide strategic approach to disaster mitigation and transferred this responsibility from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The UNDP has since been engaged in linking disaster risk mitigation with long-term sustainable rural development in their country programmes.

22.1 Institutional Development in World Bank Natural DRM Projects

In the rural sector, World Bank (WB) projects have helped disaster mitigation through financing good practices that help reduce the vulnerability of crops and land to flooding and drought. These include the development of terracing and afforestation to help stabilisation and to prevent erosion during storms and floods. Projects have also encouraged better soil management and crop rotation to introduce crops that are more resistant to droughts. In some cases borrowers moved out of plantations altogether in disaster-prone regions, and stimulated local agro-industries and livestock instead. To date, there has been little experience with crop insurance in WB financed projects. Institutional development (ID) components of reconstruction projects deserve special mention, even though current WB guidelines do not call for ID measures as part of emergency recovery. ID activities were nevertheless major components in 3% of all reconstruction and in 11% of all mitigation projects approved since 1980 (including a total of both categories = 198 projects). In spite of the lack of incentives from WB guidelines, some reconstruction projects have successfully built up the capacity to respond to future emergencies through ID. There is clearly a need to review WB procedures to stimulate a budding positive trend. One project in which ID played a major role in the design of natural disaster preparedness was the Brazil Rio Flood Reconstruction Project. ID measures play an extremely important role in natural disaster mitigation and are incorporated into the design of nearly all mitigation projects. ID components are varied. Among the most basic are those that promote disaster awareness among populations at risk. In three countries threatened by different disaster events, Maldives (tsunami); Mauritius (cyclones) and Oman (earthquakes), WB financed projects included disaster awareness programmes as a basic component. Disaster planning should primarily be generic, thus, deal first with problems common to all disasters, such as warnings, search and rescue, evacuation and emergency food, health and shelter. Then it should deal with more specific problems such as fallout from volcanic eruptions or the restoration of burnt out forests.


DRM is a process and not a product. It should be regarded as an approach to development planning rather than an outcome of a development project in itself. Where risk management is used to reduce existing risk we may refer to corrective or compensatory risk reduction; where it is used to predict and control future risk we may refer to prospective risk management. Prospective risk management is used in the context of development planning and projects seeking to guarantee adequate levels of security or sustainability for new investments. Disaster risk management is seen as a prospective tool integrated into development objectives, where transformation in production, infrastructure and social (or ‘societal’) capital are needed to contribute to risk reduction in the short to medium term. New development is considered in the light of its contribution to reducing daily risk and, at the same time, disaster risk, by increasing life style resilience - in this context, DRM is a support mechanism, not an end in itself.

The full implications of the relationships between natural disasters and economic and social development are rarely fully understood, and, unless more research is carried out, assistance strategies for disaster-prone countries will remain “hazard-blind”...they need to address DRM issues explicitly, but a more thorough information base is usually necessary to do so. DRM is also an ongoing operation. As such, natural disaster mitigation can be strengthened in development projects through greater attention given to O&M, as infrastructure is more resistant to natural disasters if maintained properly. In practice, though, O&M is hardly ever adequate, and projects are judged by quantitative indicators.

Local institutions such as neighbourhood-based user committees with clear ‘rules of the game’ and properly understood incentive structures are absolutely necessary for proper O&M. There is often an unresolved tension between the process- and output-orientation of rural development projects, but the problem with the former has always been to develop satisfactory monitoring and evaluation indicators (along the lines of the standard objectively verifiable ones) to measure qualitative aspects such as beneficiary “ownership” and commitment to infrastructure O&M.

The World Bank has been trying, with various degrees of success, to “retro-fit” a number of their rural sector development projects with DRM components. The approach for doing so, especially in post-disaster reconstruction programmes, has placed much emphasis on institutional development (ID), covering a range of concerns from awareness-raising to disaster planning (see the box in this Section).

A policy governments often adopt with respect to providing relief for indebted disaster victims is the mandating of MFIs to forgive debts. The jury is out on whether or not this contributes to an effective recovery strategy: from a humanitarian perspective, it is certainly desirable; from the perspective of a rigorous micro financier preoccupied with financial discipline, it is more harmful than not. There is no conclusive evidence on whether or not debt forgiveness helps link disaster response to long-term sustainable rural development, as the little data that exists is highly contextual. There are a myriad of variables to take into consideration, including among others household characteristics, repayment history, types of assets lost, and the characteristics of the MFI concerned as well as the sector at large. That debt forgiveness provides the wrong ‘signals’ to borrowers is undoubtedly true, and, in terms of strengthening MFIs for technical and financial autonomy, this must not be underestimated, as these institutions have often spent years to build up their reputation and the rapport with their clients.

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