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While the National Disaster Risk Management Commission and its Development Partners are still working hard to respond to the consequences of the worst drought in years, representatives of UN agencies, World Bank, Regional Economic Communities, Parliamentarians, Local Authorities, Civil Society Organizations, Private Sector and Scientists came together in Mauritius during the past week to attend the 6th Africa Regional Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction. Regional Platforms on Disaster Risk Reduction are multi stakeholder forums that were developed incrementally since 2005 during which policy makers, development partners, experts and practitioners share initiatives, approaches, tools and information, promote campaigns, monitor progress and provide evidence about disaster risk reduction. The Platform enables the sharing of good practices and lessons learnt with a view of enhancing coordination, increasing awareness and mobilizing commitments to disaster risk reduction across Africa.
The frequency of disasters seems to be on the increase as we are witnessing the effects of global climate change and environmental degradation. In the Horn of Africa we witness more frequent periods of drought and changing patterns of rain, resulting in more irregular manifestation of disasters like floods. As the mean temperatures are expected to rise, people will migrate to cooler areas in the future, increasing the pressure on land and its resources. Poor people will suffer more as their options to deal with the changing environment are limited. With the increase of extreme weather events and the mounting demographic pressure on fragile ecosystems, we are witnessing more frequent and serious floods resulting in more loss of life and property, in other words destruction of livelihoods.
Disasters, exacerbated by climate change, significantly impede progress towards sustainable development. Evidence indicates that exposure of persons and assets in all countries has increased faster than vulnerability has decreased, thus generating new risk and a steady rise in disaster losses with a significant impact in the short, medium and long term, especially at local and community level. Recent experiences and research have called for shifting the focus from protecting development against external threats to managing the risks inherent in development. This is a new paradigm where the developmental processes are sensitive enough not to create new risks, while they are smart enough to address existing risks. Development that does not take risks into account cannot be sustained, nor is it sustainable.
Sessions during the Africa Regional Platform included issues like Strengthening Disaster Risk Governance, Investing in Disaster Risk Reduction for Resilience, Enhancing Preparedness, Building Back, Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction and Health, while practices and approaches were shared during a number of side events.
The Platform drafted the outcomes of the deliberations and presented them to the High Level meeting of Ministers who came together to adopt their Declaration including Africa’s position on Disaster Risk Reduction and Programme of Action, to be presented to the Global Platform in May 2017, which will take place in Mexico.
Meanwhile, back home we must be prepared to do what we can ourselves at national and at community level to reduce disaster risks, as people continue to be exposed to the hazards of climate change and environmental degradation. So, what can we do to turn this scenario around and help reduce the risk of disaster ? Here are a few suggestions, which are by no means exhaustive:
While we need to have capacity to deal with disasters, where and when they occur, we also need to look into what can be done to prevent disaster. In other words, we need to become proactive rather than remain reactive.
Proactive measures would include urgent environmental rehabilitation and water shed management.
While attending to the above, we also need to look into alternative livelihood strategies and energy in order to halt the ongoing logging of trees. Forest products like firewood and wood for construction can only be harvested in a sustainable way if a forest management system is in place which includes quota for logging against replanting of trees. And as long as firewood is the cheapest option for the poor to cook and charcoal remains a source of income to provide urban centres with energy, we are fighting a lost battle. Alternatives must be found.
Protective measures should be taken urgently in flood prone rivers and urban centres, which could include physical as well biological measures like planting trees in the river corridors.
Consider flooding risks in land use and urban planning for investments and settlement.
Include communities in comprehensive risk assessments and use participatory planning tools for activities that will reduce the hazards and the community’s vulnerability.
Use early warning mechanisms for droughts, famine and also flooding in order to proactively deal with the threat of disaster.