Africa: positive trends in disaster reduction
Among the Karamajong pastoralists in Uganda, hundreds of thousands are struggling to find enough pasture. Seasons appear to have shrunk in number and variety. Rainfall is more unpredictable and shorter in duration. Wind storms have increased in strength. Worsening drought and changing rainfall patterns are ever-present.
Like the Karamajong, many other communities in Africa will need to adapt their lives and livelihoods in the face of these burgeoning threats. For some, coastal flooding will become a bigger problem, aggravated by sea level rise.
But before disaster strikes, it is possible to minimize disaster impact by placing responsibility on individuals, organizations and scientific institutions and governments to identify, analyze and treat risk.
“The challenge is to change our old way of managing disasters, change our mindset, change donor structure and budgeting mechanisms related to disasters and get governments to establish policies that promote and develop the risk reduction approach,” said Youcef Ait-Chellouche, Disaster Management Coordinator of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, commenting in a recent edition of “Africa Informs” – a UNISDR publication providing general news on disaster risk reduction in sub-Saharan Africa.
Gambia, one of the poorest countries in Africa with an average per capita income of $300, is listed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as one of the 100 most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Its government recognizes the risk of drought, windstorms, floods and sea level rise as persistent threats to development, and has made provisions for NGOs and civil society organizations at national and community levels to contribute effectively to disaster management.
The direct involvement of the office of the Vice President lends weight to the country’s commitment to integrate climate change adaptation with disaster risk reduction. The emphasis is on giving Gambia’s national adaptation plan “a human face” through increased collaboration with community-based organizations and humanitarian actors.
With increasing attempts by governments and civil society to cope with and reduce the looming effects of climate change, it remains important for authorities in Africa to engage in dialogue focused on maintaining disaster risk management as an integral part of economic development planning.
At the Second African Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which took place on 16 April 2010, African governments adopted a programme of action to implement the Africa Regional Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction. The Conference agreed, at the national level, to improve governance of disaster risk reduction institutions, and to integrate disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation into sustainable development planning and programmes.
UNISDR currently engages five of seven regional economic communities in Africa -- established primarily as trade blocks - to promote disaster risk reduction. There is a positive trend in establishing or reforming institutional, legislative and policy frameworks for disaster risk reduction in the sub-Saharan region, says last year’s status report on disaster risk reduction. UN agencies, development banks, donors and NGOs are scaling up their capacities to complement the efforts of national governments.
But the fact still remains: although few disasters hit global headlines, they silently and persistently erode the capacities of Africans to survive and prosper.