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Disaster risk reduction can alleviate societal tensions and help mitigate the impact of hazards in ways that reduce the likelihood of conflict
The new figures published this week on people internally displaced by conflict and disasters underline how generally accepted approaches to disaster risk management should also be considered as helpful to conflict prevention and the promotion of international humanitarian law.
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, adopted by U.N. member states a year ago, is designed to reduce existing levels of risk, and to prevent new risks emerging, in relation to both man-made and natural hazards.
By consensus among UN member states, there are no explicit references to conflict in the text, which articulates guidance on reducing mortality and numbers of people affected by disasters. Nonetheless the Sendai Framework does clearly identify many of the drivers of risk that can give rise to either conflict or a natural hazard-related disaster, when little or nothing is done to mitigate or eliminate them.
Addressing fundamental issues that underpin risk - including poverty, poor governance, land use, human rights violations, exclusion, environmental degradation, drought and climate change - under the umbrella of disaster risk reduction creates a global platform for addressing risk in a way that ushers it into the mainstream of daily political and civil life.
How could it not be otherwise when the new Global Report on Internal Displacement tells us that disasters triggered by natural hazards caused twice as many new displacements in 2015 as conflict and violence?
There were 19.2 million new displacements associated with disasters in 113 countries in 2015, and several of these countries are no strangers to conflict, which gave rise to 8.6 million new displacements in 28 countries last year.
As Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, points out, in the case of Sudan, displacement “ostensibly caused by conflict has been traced back to root causes such as drought and environmental degradation, and a food crisis that became a famine because of government neglect and changing regional demographics”.
In Yemen last year, Socotra - the only governorate of that war-torn country unaffected by internal displacement as a result of conflict - was unusually hit by two tropical cyclones in November, forcing 56,000 people to leave their homes.
Climate change and rapid urbanisation are adding to the mix of risk in ways that will keep global risk modellers busy for years to come. But common sense tells us that disaster risk reduction properly applied can alleviate societal tensions and help mitigate the impact of man-made and natural hazards in ways which reduce tension and the likelihood of conflict.
Through convening the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) later this month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a new era in international relations - “one in which safeguarding humanity and promoting human progress drives our decision-making and collective action”.
ATTENTION TO THOSE WORST HIT
Two key sets of factors are linked to higher levels of violence: socio-economic factors that entrench poverty, exclusion and inequality; and politico-institutional factors that can precipitate a crisis of governance.
The U.N. member states that have endorsed the Sendai Framework have also endorsed the guiding principle that “Disaster risk reduction requires an all-of-society engagement and partnership. It also requires empowerment and inclusive, accessible and non-discriminatory participation, paying special attention to people disproportionately affected by disasters, especially the poorest.”
By extension, if there is a political commitment to disaster risk reduction in a given society, then there is also a commitment to reducing the risk of conflict because the Sendai Framework is about “promoting and protecting all human rights, including the right to development”.
Embedding disaster risk management in fragile states and making it a part of the very culture of governance is key to the success of the 2030 Development Agenda and delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals.
We already know and celebrate the fact that many thousands of people are alive today because of specific decisions taken by governments across the world to reduce the death toll from weather-related disasters.
There are fewer successes one can readily point to when it comes to avoiding lost lives in conflict situations, and we need more evidence of that if we are make the switch from conflict response - which eats up 80 percent of the U.N.’s humanitarian funding - to mobilising resources for conflict prevention.
Churchill wrote: “The statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”
The political leader who yields to disaster risk reduction may not always be able to control disaster events but will be master of a policy that safeguards humanity and promotes human progress.
Robert Glasser, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, will participate in a live online debate on May 18, organised by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit: “How should we manage climate risks and disasters differently?”