International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean   

Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Issue: 13/2006- 12/2006 - 11/2005 - 10/2005 - 9/2004 - 8/2003 - 7/2003 - 6/2002 - 5/2002 - 4/2001- 3/2001

Global ISDR


Disaster prevention and the challenges of globalization
By N. Benjelloun Touimi, M. Bentaja, W. Wagner *

“The following article was developed by the persons mentioned above as a contribution to the discussions on the challenges, benefits and threats of globaliziation, from the specific perspective of natural, environmental and similar disasters. The paper presents the view that the impact of disasters on vulnerable communities exposed to such hazards, causes a serious impediment to the economic competitiveness of developing countries, both at the micro- and macro-economic levels, and thereby reduces their potential to be actively participating in and benefiting from the global trading system. Consequently, effective disaster reduction represents an important determining factor in achieving equal opportunities in economic partnerships and, therefore, forms an indispensable component of national and regional sustainable development strategies, if globalization” is not to be perceived mainly as a threat but rather as an opportunity for sustained economic growth”.

Globalization has certainly opened up new prospects for the growth of the world economy. But while some countries, in particular developed ones, have been able to turn the new international economic order to advantage, most developing and least-developed countries still face numerous difficulties which are preventing them from becoming full players in the new economy and benefiting equitably from the market opportunities it brings (equal chances/opportunities).

Among the decisive factors making for this inequality of opportunity are recurrent natural, environmental and technological disasters, which weigh heavily on small economies. The floods that recently struck Mozambique, causing substantial human and material losses, will surely set back economic revival for a long time in a country which in recent years has regularly seen economic growth of over 7% of GNP. The El Niño phenomenon which devastated the countries around the Pacific rim in 1997/1998 caused losses in Ecuador on the order of US$ 2 billion, or more than 12% of GNP, and the earthquake that rocked the Izmit section of Turkey in August 1999 caused losses approaching US $13 billion.

Under the effects of these disasters, the gulf between the rich countries, which have taken advantage of the opportunities that globalization affords for increasing exports and have improved their market access, particularly in telecommunications, information technology and financial services, and the poor countries which, while they cope with the disasters, are paralysed by unforeseeable domestic budgetary revisions and forced to reallocate sums originally voted for development programmes to meet other ongoing expenses or additional, disaster-related costs, has continued to widen. To ward off this risk of instability and marginalization in a world of growing globalization and interdependence, preventive measures must be incorporated into the national budgets of the countries most at risk of earthquakes, floods, storms and drought under a heading reserved for economic and social development programmes.

To help these countries take up the challenge, efforts need to be made in the developed countries to mobilize the political will for cooperation under agreements on genuine partnership and increased international assistance in disaster prevention. The developing countries need access to global knowledge - especially know-how in technology, research, analysis and forecasting - and special-purpose networks for monitoring (telecommunications facilities) and gathering the information and data their economies require to develop an appropriate culture and benefit equally from the risk-management opportunities that are available.

Another way in which partnership could be demonstrated is through external debt relief for the worst-affected poor countries, turning their debts into investment projects in disaster mitigation. The link between investment and level of risk is a decisive one, since high-risk destinations will never be favoured targets for the direct foreign investment which the developing countries self-evidently need in order to secure their place in the world economic system through such promising sectors as tourism, processing industries and financial services. As a general rule, for example, affiliates of foreign firms purchase inputs from local suppliers; such purchases burgeon as the businesses become more confident that the environment in which they are operating is a safe one. In order to increase the input flow, therefore, these countries must be given the chance to set up reliable, high-quality infrastructure that meets earthquake-resistance standards in vulnerable regions; to identify areas at risk and evacuate the inhabitants of districts exposed to the vagaries of the elements (floods or storms); and to draw up appropriate domestic legislation.

This was the background against which the Southern African Development Community (SADC), comprising Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa, held a ministerial meeting on 3 March 2000 in Pretoria and agreed to set up a group of experts to consider the implications - for the economy, trade, agriculture and livelihoods of the people living in those four countries - of the floods which have struck the region. The Ministers also undertook to set up a risk-management unit. This was followed by a special summit of the Heads of State of Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Lesotho and Swaziland. The summit, held in Maputo, Mozambique, on 14 March 2000, adopted a declaration calling on the international community to cancel all the external debts that Mozambique owed it so that the country could invest all its available resources in rebuilding the infrastructure and basic services damaged or destroyed by the floods of February/March 2000.

Similarly, it should be recalled that the G-8 Summit in Cologne in June 1999 proposed the expansion of a programme for indebted poor countries. This initiative was endorsed by the international institutions in late September 1999 as a means of bridging the shortcomings of the initiative launched by donor countries for the same purpose in 1996, offering the poor countries greater and swifter debt relief.

The disaster-prevention approach is widely recognised on the international scene. Multidisciplinary, inter-sectoral strategy for alleviating the effects of risks has been under the coordination of the United Nations GenevaSecretariat responsible for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) since January 2000. The elements of this strategy were laid down at the Programme Forum held in Geneva from 5 to 9 July 1999 to mark the end of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction.

This approach is also being considered by the World Bank, which has launched an initiative with the aim of making prevention part of its institutional policy under a programme known as ProVention (Consortium on technological and natural disasters). This Consortium, which held its first meeting at World Bank Headquarters in Washington, D.C., from 2 to 4 February 2000, seeks to reduce the risk of disaster in developing countries and make the prevention and mitigation of the socioeconomic impact of disasters on the environment, communities and individuals an integral part of development efforts in the countries concerned.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) may develop a similar approach, folding risk management into its member countries’ development plans as part of the work of the Committee on Trade and Development. The thinking has already manifested itself in the WTO Ministerial Declaration of May 1998, paragraph 6 of which says that the Ministers “remain deeply concerned over the marginalization of least-developed countries and certain small economies, and a recognize the urgent need to address this issue which has been compounded by the chronic foreign debt problem facing many of them.”Equally, the outcome of the recent Euro-Africa Summit, held in Cairo(3-4 April 2000), emphasized the adverse social and economic impacts of natural disasters on African countries(par.106 of the Declaration). The summit agreed to strengthen cooperation in this field and to set up disaster prevention and preparedness mechanisms(par.110 of the Action plan).

When all is said and done, the international community must make available its full aid and co-operation for the task of defining disaster prevention strategies and incorporating them into the national development programmes of the most seriously affected countries. This could be made one of the priority topics when Agenda 21, spelling out what the United Nations needs to do to promote economic and social development around the globe, is revised in 2002. By means of a strategy such as this, economic growth in vulnerable countries can be stayed and supported, ensuring that they enjoy sustainable development. In the Bangkok Declaration produced at the end of the tenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) (12-19 February 2000), the member States called for a special effort in favour of those at risk of marginalization, particularly in Africa (para. 8), and for a true partnership based on more inclusive, transparent and participatory institutional arrangements so as to ensure that the benefits of globalization are accessible to all on an equitable basis (para. 9).

The point is clearly made by Mr Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his report to the General Assembly at its 54th session (A/54/1, para. 9), where he states that he is “particularly alarmed by the international community’s poor response to the needs of victims of war and natural disasters in Africa. When needs are pressing, if we are not true to our most basic principles of multilateralism and humanitarian ethics, we will be accused of inconsistency at best, hypocrisy at worst.”

* • H.E. Mr. N. Benjelloun Touimi, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations Office at Geneva
• Mr. Mohamed Bentaja, Consultant to the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and former Chairman of the Customs Valuation Committee at the World Trade Organization
• Mr. Wolfgang Wagner, former Head of Policy Coordination Unit of the Secretariat for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR 1990-1999)