Why Governments in Developing Countries Do Not Learn the Basics of Hydro-Meteorological Disaster Risk Reduction?


The climate is changing and the impacts are unprecedented in different parts of the world and more devastating in Africa. Therefore, it is urgent and critical to anticipate, plan for and reduce disaster risk in order to more effectively protect persons, communities and countries, their livelihoods, socioeconomic assets and ecosystems, and thus strengthen their resilience. In doing this, the governments should be guided by the Sendai Framework for Action (2015-2030), which took precedence from the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015) and the Yokohama Strategy in 1994. Essentially, the Sendai Framework for Action builds on the understanding of reducing the impacts of potential hazards by taking action before the occurrence of the hazardous events. It reflects on the need by governments to value the development progress already made and to mainstream current development activities into hydro-meteorological disaster risk reduction. In this regard, it might be prudent to address climate change as one of the drivers of disaster risk, while respecting the mandate of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which presents an opportunity to reduce disaster risk in a meaningful and coherent manner throughout the interrelated intergovernmental processes.

The current hydro-meteorological hazardous events have resulted in the destruction of livelihoods in rural settings, infrastructure (e.g. houses, bridges, schools, clinics and roads) and spread of water-related diseases. This stalls development at all levels and makes the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) difficult if not impossible. This is mainly attributed to the lack of understanding and appreciation of disaster risk reduction planning as a tool for developments by government. For example, in Zimbabwe, even when hydro-meteorological hazards are predicted from the onset of the rain season, the government is reluctant to set aside a budget based on projected scenarios for impacts and to start engaging in activities that will reduce the impacts before occurrence. Instead, the government awaits the occurrence of a disaster for the proclamation of the State of a Disaster and then mobilisation of resources to assist the affected populace. Moreso, a high percentage of these resources come from international community and this might take time, while the population is suffering. This makes it difficult for the local authorities to promptly deal with the overwhelming impacts after the disaster strikes. An example in this regard is the 2016/2017 rain season when floods were predicted in Zimbabwe, and the country started receiving heavy rains continuously from December 2016 and yet the state of disaster for flood victims was proclaimed in early March 2017. This was way after communities in Masvingo, Matebeleland South, Harare and Midlands provinces were already displaced, their houses and fields destroyed, clearly indicating a reactive and disastrous approach to dealing with hazards. Furthermore, the assistance provided is not comprehensive to foster full recovery (Build-Back-Better) of the affected population but is short-lived and distributed based on partisanship as political leaders stake the opportunity to further their political mileage at the expense of Zimbabwean citizens.

An example of good practices for hydro-meteorological disaster risk reduction would be based on efficient early warning systems that are backed by adequate resources to ensure implementation of the risk reduction strategies. The government in line with the seasonal predictions for each rain season must set aside financial resources to be used to reduce community vulnerability of adverse impacts of predicted hazards. Relying on aid for such actions might prove to be detrimental as has been evidenced already in the previous years. Early warning information for hydro-meteorological hazards has to be precise and localised to be of any assistance to the communities to reduce vulnerability. A good example in this regard, is how often the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) in Zimbabwe usually gives their weather forecast indicating that some areas will be receiving normal-above normal rainfall and other areas below normal rainfall. In this case, such information is not helpful to the population, as it does not quantify rainfall amounts and does not pin point the geographical area (e.g. provinces are too big for specification) or action that needs to be taken. Ignoring all these basic fundamentals in dealing with climate change extreme events has resulted in the loss of lives, destruction of livelihoods and infrastructure that is important to our being.
Good practices for urban planning which might have been central to reducing flooding in urban areas, included the identification of and sparing of wetlands for construction by the local authorities. These have been very instrumental in channelling the water collected in the drainage system to the wetlands. But, the recent developments in Harare and many other urban cities, are such that wetlands have been built on disregarding their original ecological function in urban areas. This has resulted in flooding of some recent residential areas considering extremely high rains that have been received in recent years (e.g. 2016/2017 rain season). By building in wetlands this population is putting itself at risk and exposing themselves to a potential hazard and consequently a disaster. Therefore, the current trend of urban development in Zimbabwe is completely flawed and disregards the fundamentals of disaster risk reduction and hence vulnerable to hydro-meteorological hazards including water-related diseases (e.g. typhoid and cholera). By not considering disaster risk in development planning, new risks could be unintentionally created or existing ones exacerbated through improper planning and regulation for urban development.

Mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into development planning should be the new planning agenda for dealing with climate change extreme events and the associated hydro-meteorological hazards. For Zimbabwe to succeed in hazard management, they have to take full cognisance of the Sendai Framework for Action, which entails the need for improved understanding of disaster risk in all its dimensions of exposure, vulnerability and hazard characteristics; the strengthening of disaster risk governance, including national platforms; accountability for disaster risk management; preparedness to “Build Back Better”; recognition of stakeholders and their roles; mobilization of risk-sensitive investment to avoid the creation of new risk; resilience of health infrastructure, strengthening of international cooperation and global partnership, and risk-informed donor policies and programs, including financial support and loans from international financial institutions. Conclusively, it is imperative that governments do not become dormant and reactive, but rather be proactive and mainstream disaster risk reduction planning into disaster risk reduction. Thus it is essential that the process of development planning identifies and analyses the underlying causes of risk, and factors in measures for risk reduction. By mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into national development processes, disaster risk considerations can be made an integral part of development processes, especially in priority sectors such as agriculture, education, health, housing and roads.

1. https://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/events/47559
2. Sendai Framework for Action 2015-2030
3. http://www.akdn.org/press-release/mainstreaming-disaster-risk-reduction-development-planning-process-afghanistan
4. https://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/events/47559

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