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23. Some Policy Recommendations summed up: “Best Practices” and “Lessons Learned”

Although the elements describing the characteristics of a “typical” local institution successful at DRM are too thin to come to conclusions that would allow more profound normative policy recommendations, a number of points can be made. Somewhat counter-intuitively, it has been found that, for a variety of reasons, larger NGOs fare better in post-disaster situations than smaller ones, and should be singled out for collaboration. They must meet several conditions, however, as they must be well organised and structured, and yet, defying their size, be able to remain flexible at the same time - an attribute that, unsurprisingly, appears to be relatively rare in large organisations. On the other hand, younger and/or smaller institutions have a more difficult time in DRM, not only because they are less experienced but also because they tend to be less able to “cross-subsidise” and “absorb shocks”. Larger programmes may achieve this by keeping a separate budget for each intervention to ensure against the poor performance of one project impinging on another.

Drought relief operations have consistently demonstrated the need for accountable community-based structures to oversee the implementation of emergency interventions, which also ensure that interventions are culturally acceptable. Such structures, which usually take on the form of committees, need to be legitimate. As emergency operations need to be swift and tend to involve at least some free distribution of assets of one kind or another, they are also more prone to corruption and bribes. Community-based structures thus need to include a rigorous selection of credible and just local individuals, which should be chosen by community members themselves. The direct payment of committee members should be discouraged.

Since during the aftermath of natural disasters that we can often observe a “gap” between the existence of DRM laws and their actual application, investigations must be preoccupied much more with the latter, in particular with the reasons of non-application. A key lesson of a number of institutional and organisational development projects seeking to improve NRM is that however successful these interventions may be, if legal personality is not bestowed to the local institutions concerned, for governments to involve them to respond to mitigate natural disaster impact will be impossible or at least much more complicated. They may be used for a broad range of activities in the disaster management cycle, including the dissemination of DRM information, for which a clear information dissemination policy should be conceived. In this respect, as well as in planning and coordination, the involvement of cross-sectoral ministries, such as Ministries of Finance, and of federations of local governments, has proven valuable.

Information dissemination needs effective technology and a communication strategy that encourages simple language for household DRM. It can be argued that interacting with affected population groups, the term ‘natural disaster’ should be employed with great caution, as it may be misleading and smack of “fatalism”; rather, attention should be drawn to the human role in catalysing or causing such events, which would add to awareness-raising efforts. Codes of Conduct (including do’s and don’t’s in emergency situations) for all actors, non-government and government, are a good idea to avoid loss of professionalism in the general confusion of urgent disaster responses. Agricultural and rural development strategy and policy documents should include sections on emergency food aid. The design of specific response interventions (such as, typically, FFW programmes) and approaches (such as, for example, PMP), should be regulated by a Relief Code, which is something that only a few disaster-prone countries have and apply.

Post-disaster accounts from Asia and Latin America show that the efforts at harmonising national and regional level policies that this involves are best led by an outside agency such as a foreign NGO or bilateral cooperation. For the microfinance sector (see also Section 21 above), donors and governments should agree on basic disaster response principles and recovery policies before a natural disaster strikes. The World Bank has summed up its DRM experience as showing that effective natural disaster management needs to be part of the development planning and budgeting process of countries at risk. To help tap the maximum potential of the organised civil society sector, government should contemplate introducing fiscal measures to act as incentives in this respect. For example, these may include the exemption of sales and entry taxes for materials used by NGOs in the relief phase.

The setting up of a central (NGO) Coordination Cell and Internet site to “guide” NGOs, volunteers, and others from outside the affected area in their disaster response activities, has been found helpful. Because of their community mobilisation capacities and participatory outreach, NGOs are often the most appropriate partners to work with in DRM and in the immediacy of a post-disaster situation. It is good practice to “pre-select” NGOs by compiling an inventory of existing organisations that includes brief institutional profiles, not least to gain precious time in responding. In some countries, foreign funded NGOs are seen as agents of global players and policy criticism on their part may implicitly be considered as threatening to destabilise the government. Conversely, where local population groups frown upon such projects simply because initiated by government, government-led activities may not be the right entry point for community-based DRM, in which case they should be contracted out to locally reputable civil society institutions and intermediaries.

‘Win-win’ partnerships between international and local NGOs contribute greater and more informed grass-roots contact to the former and capacity-building to the latter. Without mutual respect and a predisposition towards reciprocal learning, however, such partnerships may not maximise the synergies of respective comparative advantages. Another risk is that local staff abandon their national organisations for international ones, mainly because of better pay. This may make it difficult for local partners to continue performing as before, or reduce them to acquiescent sub-contractors. As there are often concerns about the quality and reliability of national NGO support to disaster-affected households, this not only raises questions about the sustainability of these organisations after their international colleagues move out, but may also threaten the longer-term relationships they have developed with local population groups and the administration. As successful DRM tends to consist of a combination of ‘formal’ development with more traditional risk reduction activities, this is all the more compelling.

Hazard-sensitive development cooperation needs a multisectoral, integrated approach, involving inter-disciplinary DRM experts who start by looking at household coping strategies. They can help to “mainstream” DRM as part of participatory planning and awareness-raising programmes, which should also include training and preliminary risk analysis to diagnose hazard risk. DRM should be seen as a process, not a product, an approach to development planning, not just a project. Public awareness-raising campaigns on steps to take before, during and after a natural disaster are more successful if communities feel consulted - they should be as interactive as possible. Hazard risk diagnosis ideally involves the participatory construction of risk scenarios for delimited areas, sectors or populations, considering particular hazard and vulnerability factors, the social, economic and political processes and actors behind these, and the local development context in which risk is manifested.

Frontline operators should realise, and act upon the realisation, that disasters also present unique opportunities to “do things differently”, in general, and to introduce improved technologies, in particular. They should be quick in their work and in “getting their message across” because usually DRM investment remains a high priority only immediately after a disaster has occurred. For such investment to come about more plentifully, all stakeholders should make an extra effort in stopping to treat DRM as an exceptional activity brought about by exceptional circumstances. Desirable attitude and behavioural changes are more easily achieved by working with local governments that associate to their endeavours key resource persons holding the respect of local communities. Although certain ‘hardware’, such as early warning systems, may be expensive, its installation also demonstrates political will and provides a signal and incentives to local population groups to “do their part” by setting up and participating in the accompanying ‘software’, such as local emergency committees.

The setting up of local institutions for the O&M of physical infrastructure should be part and parcel of construction or rehabilitation programmes; these bodies, where they are successful, can do much to uphold the conditions of these facilities and to thus decrease disaster risk - their establishment should be included in sets of norms to be applied as standard practice during the building of roads, drilling of wells, etc. To control for flood and drought risk, where appropriate, the establishment of natural forest buffer zones and erosion control measures through the involvement of watershed management and pastoral associations should be encouraged, paying special attention to household-level NRM incentives. Most of these efforts will however be diluted unless a better enabling environment for NRM is created. Economists will need to carry out further cost-benefit analyses on the long-term development impact of disasters to convince policy makers of DRM investments; environmental economists will need to continue work on imputing economic value to new “environmental services”.

The microfinance sector too is in need of disaster response and recovery policies, whilst debt forgiveness should be an option of last resort. A lesson learnt concerns the setting up of new MFIs as a post-disaster response, which has largely been found ineffective. Among existing MFIs those concerned should themselves periodically test the effectiveness of their DRM strategies and need to prepare for worst case scenarios by applying a comprehensive approach to risk management, integrating disaster risk management strategies into their operations and organisational culture. They tend to find it easier to succeed at their operations if they can avail themselves of committed and easy to deploy field staff, whilst their geographical diversification through a wide network allows them to cross-subsidise for DRM. Microlending programmes should not mix loans and grants - the latter should be provided by a different organisation - and the solidarity group lending methodology is not suitable for home improvement loans. For poor communities, savings and emergency funds are better than insurance.

Although international assistance provided regularly without conditions may provide ‘perverse incentives’ to local population groups and governments alike, at a minimum, donors should help mobilise financial and in-kind resources to pay compensation to the next of kin of those having lost a household member due to a disaster. A little creativity in relief programmes, such as temporarily paying school fees, can go a long way in helping households cope. To bridge the humanitarian-development aid continuum, activities such as animal restocking are necessary but not sufficient to recover household welfare, and complementary measures are needed to catalyse a local development dynamic by restoring the hopes of those affected. Donors should support both governments and civil society organisations, recognising that although the state can cover covariant risks more effectively than the private sector, effective DRM remains unattainable without CSO involvement. Implemented in the context of larger, coherent strategies targeting hazard risk reduction, even one-off capacity-building exercises for CSOs, paying special attention to gender issues, are very worthwhile pursuing and can contribute to DRM at critical times.

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