BANGKOK, 26 September 2014 (IRIN) – Among the topics being discussed at the 2014 World Climate Week in New York City (22-26 September), are financing resilient cities, corporate actions for resilience, the ways data can support resilience moves, and women’s leadership in resilience planning.
IRIN looks at some of the successes, failures and pitfalls in resilience planning.
Hazard-resilient investments can range from enforced building codes, to early warning systems, to community-level waste management – all crucial for buffering societies against disasters.
“It can be as easy as painting lines on trees to gauge water levels [so] you can see when it is time to pack up and leave, before it is too late,” Richard Yates, the director of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) regional mission for Asia, told IRIN, pointing to a USAID-supported project in the Philippines.
But resilience planning which does not include a range of actors – from vulnerable communities to big companies – can fail to accomplish anything new, warned a critique by the Humanitarian Policy Group at the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI).
“There is a danger that we go on and think we are building resilience when really we are ignoring the most vulnerable,” said Paul Levine, a livelihoods and vulnerability specialist with ODI. “In coming up with a whole new language and framework, we forget the basics.”
For example, relocations without community consent, can do more harm than good. The best way to proceed is to bring together scientists, governments, the private sector, and communities.
What doesn’t work?
In the aftermath of the April 2014 floods in Honiara, Solomon Islands, where more than 10,000 people lost their homes, the City Council declared informal riverside settlements as “no-build zones” while simultaneously pushing to shut evacuation centres, leaving people with no choice but to return to places with limited access to livelihoods and services.
“The [government-run] process of relocating people from the formal Honiara evacuation centres has been quite a fraught one, as people are being removed to provinces where they have either never lived, or have not lived in 20 or 30 years,” said Philippa Ross, the UN Women’s gender and protection adviser based in Suva, Fiji’s capital, adding that at least hundreds remained homeless.
But, argued Sune Gudnitz, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Bangkok, “the government has to enforce no-build zones in areas of high risk.”
He explained that geo-hazard mapping from aerial footage captured by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC – an intergovernmental organization made up of 26 nations) found that riverside areas are unsafe because of flood hazards.
ODI’s Levine says such relocations are not uncommon, calling them a “disturbing reality”.
“Relocating populations in high risk coastal areas under the name of resilient urban planning, then a few years later installing tourist resorts there, is not unknown to happen,” said Levine, citing relocations in Sri Lanka after the Indian Ocean 2004 tsunami, where decisions based on the scientific and technical aspects of resilience resulted in forced relocations.
According to Mercy Corps, which has been working on resilience in East Africa since 2004, and is a member of the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCRN) in Indonesia, making communities resilient is less about science and more about equitable and accountable governance.
It is often the most impoverished who set up their homes on vacant urban land in areas frequently not suitable for building, according to the Jakarta-based Institute of Social and Environmental Transition ISET-International (ISET), a research institution that works on climate change adaptation in cities.
“You often have large flows of workers and migrants seeking any open space they can find to settle because it’s fundamental to accessing work, school for their children,” said Marcus Moench, ISET’s president.
“The key point is that if resettlement does need to happen, everyone needs to be involved whether they are informal settlements or not,” said Paul Jeffery, Indonesia country director for Mercy Corps.
Septic tanks in lieu of relocation
Experts say much can be done to improve peoples’ situations without relocating them.
“We don’t want to erode people’s decision-making ability to live where they choose,” said Mercy Corps’ Jeffery. “First [we need to] know why they are living there, ensure people are aware of the risks, and then find ways to better prepare them.”
For example, a Mercy Corps sanitation project in flood-prone Jakarta helps to install affordable septic tanks in densely-populated areas to protect people from the health risks of wading through faeces during floods.
It encompasses all local actors: Mercy Corps worked in communities to raise awareness about the importance of septic tanks, which get installed in individual homes. The NGO then campaigned for the municipal government to install larger septic tanks in nearby rubbish dumps so the household tanks could be emptied regularly. Microcredit loans, supplied by the NGO, prompted small businesses to open push-cart services for hauling waste from small tanks to the big central tank.
The system even attracted funding from IKEA, the Swedish retailer, which will now pay to install 100 septic tanks in parts of North Jakarta within the next two years.
Gender and resilience
Experts say that supporting genuine resilience also requires questioning who speaks for the community. Gender, for example, can offer a lens on power disparities that poorly-framed resilience interventions can exacerbate.
“Even within the same household, individuals will experience shocks and stresses in different ways,” said a 2014 Mercy Corps report, which also noted that during assessments, women tend to identify risks sometimes absent from traditional frameworks.
“The big-picture worldview associated with resilience tends to reflect men’s priorities more than women’s. We just hear what the men say as being important because it matches what we assume and think is important rather than something like sickness, which affects people more but is not a crisis as we conceptualize it,” said Levine.
A 2013 study co-researched by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) on Kenya, Ethiopia and the self-declared republic of Somaliland noted that women needed to be prompted in order to identify recent droughts as a risk.
“Investing in resilience makes good business sense”
“Businesses are also recognizing that investing in resilience makes good business sense,” said USAID’s Yates. Nearly 80 percent of all economic investment comes from private companies, according to the UN’s 2013 Global Assessment report.
“The challenges are too great for any single entity or sector to tackle alone,” said Kyla Reid, the head of the GSMA Disaster Response Network, a liaison between mobile phone operators and humanitarian organizations that works in disaster areas such as in the wake of the Philippines 2013 Typhoon Haiyan.
In August 2014, USAID partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to sponsor US$100 million in prize money to inspire new measures in resilience from public and private sector actors.