Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Role of Community Disaster Preparedness in National Development
There is a strong link between disaster management and development planning in that they are united by a common bond. Both are acted on or seek to act on the same basic problems. The causes of disasters are seen as poverty, fragile economies, population movement, urbanization, environmental degradation and a lack of social institutions. These are the same issues which development seeks to address. The resolution of these issues through sound development should therefore lead to a lowering of risk and the general vulnerability of the population. Considering this linkage it is somewhat paradoxical that often the policies implemented to resolve development problems can exacerbate the frequency and impacts of disasters. This is often due to poor analysis by policy planners which inadvertently leads to the development and implementation of inappropriate policies. These policies are often developed based on the existing situation and seek to address what is perceived as immediate problems without adequate attention being paid to historical origin. These include the poor development of rural areas, the development of a monoculture economy and subsidization of urban dwellers by rural workers. This has often led to the abandonment of rural areas and a strengthened the pull of the capital city. Unfortunately if these historical factors are not addressed the situation merely deteriorates on an annual basis despite the best efforts of the government.
Generally rural areas are characterized by a sense of benign neglect as evidenced by the plight of farmers. The high cost of inputs required (labor, fertilizer etc.) which the farmer has to procure at market rates is not matched by the farm gate price at which he has to sell his produce. This price is often substantially below what is required to profitably operate the farm but is necessitated in order to compete against cheap imports from developed countries. Additionally in several instances farmers having invested their income and loans in their farms are often unable to transport their crops to market as truckers often refuse to service farm areas due to poor road conditions and the high cost of vehicle maintenance. This combination of poor return on investments, poor rural services, low income and lack of employment opportunities forces many to leave the rural areas for the towns. This unplanned growth of urban areas places severe strains on existing social services, while the newly arrived migrant unable to compete in the urban economy gravitates to living in highly vulnerable areas.
In seeking to address this problem, governments often create urban employment projects designed to address the visible unemployment in urban areas without paying adequate attention to the root cause of this problem. In seeking to address the urban problem in an isolated manner the perception is created of greater economic opportunities in urban areas, this accelerates the flight from rural poverty. Those remaining in the rural areas may also engage in survival practices which inadvertently increases the overall vulnerability of their community. The denudation of hillside and watershed areas for charcoal leads to increased sedimentation in gullies, rivers and drainage canals and increase both the severity and frequency of flood events.
For the disaster manager this rural flight has multiple impacts, firstly it deprives the rural areas of the leadership needed to develop and implement effective disaster management programs and secondly it increases the vulnerability of the urban population who unable to compete in the employment and land market are forced to occupy unsafe locations.
Unfortunately very few governments have seriously addressed the issue of comprehensive rural development which would alleviate the problems in the urban areas and also lead to a lowering in the vulnerability of both the rural and urban population. This situation is expected to continue and become more acute as governments increasingly find themselves unable to meet the needs of their growing population. Under such a scenario, disaster management and community development are likely to become causalities at the national policy level as they are not perceived as contributing to the economic development of the society.
It is against this background that the role of Community Based Disaster Preparedness in the general context of national development must be examined. CBDP should be seen as the key that unlocks the door to the community and stimulates the drive for effective community development. This can be achieved by linking Community Based Disaster Preparedness practices to the daily activities of the population and to their development issues and problems. These may include insecure land tenure, low commodity prices, high farm inputs and unemployment rates, under employment, high crime level, poor services, substandard housing and poor learning environment for the children. In the Caribbean it was noted that several of these problems can be successfully addressed in a collaborative manner by the community working in close collaboration with organizations such as the Red Cross, other NGOs, the government and the private sector.
The process of community based disaster preparedness should therefore not be simply considered as a training activity. It can also serve as an effective forum for bringing the community together to address existing community problems and to establish the basis for the community taking responsibility for its own development. An integral part of the program therefore is the creation of local disaster management committees and the eventual evolution of these committees into community development committees. This is being accomplished in the Caribbean under the guidance of and in conjunction with various Red Cross Societies, government ministries and other NGOs.
The evolution of this local development committee from the original disaster committee and their efforts to develop and implement local development plans offers the best opportunity for ensuring the continuation of disaster preparedness (DP) activities at the community level. As the committee prepares and implements development plans it is foreseen that DP will be an integral part of these plans. In this regard a decision to upgrade the existing housing stock automatically raises the question of standards and may involve the government building inspectorate in the informal housing sector, an area which previously fell outside their area of responsibility. By thinking in this manner the local committee gradual ceases to think of DP as a stand-alone activity, but sees it as an important part of their daily life. By working to develop these committees NGOs and development organizations also build up a credible presence in the community and establish a firm base for the expansion of their traditional activities.
This approach can have a significant multiplier effect in that it can ensure the survival of disaster preparedness at the community level empowers the community, increase community ownership for the program and strengthen community ties.
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