At Kobe in Japan in January 2005, the worldwide humanitarian system and partners gathered to collect their insights, views and experience to shape and launch the historic Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), a global strategy to reduce disaster risks. Like many others, the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) had been demanding such a framework since the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) was concluded in 1998 in Geneva. The global event in Kobe was unique: it augmented our insights and ideas, gave them a global appeal, arranged them into doable actions and established a global mandate for disaster risk reduction. However, it also took disaster risk reduction away from us civil society.
This dispossession was not intended. Nevertheless, this is the effect, intended or otherwise. HFA is a top-down process, UN and donor-driven, and flows through formal institutional mechanisms and legal arrangements. National platforms are being set up and thematic platforms are being formed at the instance of those who work at the global level, in the UN or donor agencies. Although large numbers of individuals and organisations are involved, and are being consulted and engaged with good effect, the process is still decided at the top, not according to local agendas.
We, as a collective civil society, as individuals, and as humanitarian practitioners, need to reclaim the HFA as our own, not by arguments but by action, and not through contestation but through cooperation. This is what I have heard again and again in the field, from local and small NGOs in Asia and in Africa over the past two years. But how to do this? In this article I would like to show how this is being done at AIDMI, and with its partners in the field. I will give three examples: institutional, activity-specific and system-specific. For the institutional example, I have taken AIDMIs own work in South Asia. For the activity-specific example, I have taken the Indian governments National Disaster Management Authoritys annual congress of 2007. For the system-specific example, I have taken the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)s process documentation of disaster risk reduction (DRR) in Sri Lanka.
Institutional audit: the AIDMI Annual Report 2006
AIDMI has reviewed, revised and reflected upon the HFA to make it useful in organisational audits and communication about AIDMIs activities generally. In the past two years, HFA has been used as a primary tool in AIDMI annual reports to illustrate how actions fit with Hyogos five priorities (listed below). (For more information about AIDMI publications please visit: www.southasiadisasters.net.) This has two advantages. First, it helps us identify our relative strengths and weaknesses. Second, it helps others who work with us, support us and partner with us to approach an HFA priority area as a useful reference and risk reduction resource. Below is an overview of how AIDMIs actions contribute to the realisation of global risk reduction within the HFA.
1. Ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation
The field and office team of AIDMI reviewed a wide range of activities that AIDMI had conducted, and separated out those activities that helped in making DRR a national and local priority. The activities were many, ranging from organising a national roundtable of key stakeholders to comment on the Indian governments draft Disaster Management Bill to holding an Asia-wide roundtable on the use of micro-finance as a disaster risk reduction measure in tsunami recovery, to hosting former US President Bill Clintons NGO Impact Initiative regional consultation in Chennai, India.
2. Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning
Although a more difficult exercise, here too the AIDMI team came up with examples, ranging from the use of GIS in city-level recovery mapping in Bhuj, which was hit by an earthquake in 2001, to creating a location-specific database for mapping the response to a series of bomb blasts in Mumbai, India, in July 2007. Similarly, methods to measure and manage the impact of livelihood recovery measures after July 2006 floods in Surat, India, were included as an example.
3. Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels
Here key activities included over 45 community-based disaster risk reduction training sessions in 2006 in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Mumbai and Kashmir, and publishing 12 issues of Southasiadisasters.net. Sector-specific initiatives, such as publishing a book on micro insurance in tsunami recovery, are another example.
4. Reduce the underlying risk factors
Here the key effort was the expansion of Afat Vimo (disaster insurance), from 1,000 to 3,000 disaster-affected people in India, as well as a second infusion of microcredit to those who received livelihood relief following the Gujarat riots in 2002, to further accelerate business recovery. Other examples include the promotion of safer housing and infrastructure measures in slum communities. The use of cash transfers in several new shelter, community infrastructure and training projects in Kashmir and a pilot of an agriculture insurance scheme in Gujarat are further examples.
5. Strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels
This included facilitating local response plans and organisational preparedness plans, as well as a Safer School Campaign in 30 schools in 18 districts in Gujarat. Efforts to strengthen local emergency medicine responses in communities are another example.
Mapping research and knowledge development: the India Disaster Management Congress
The First India Disaster Management Congress (IDMC), in New Delhi in 2006, was a major step forward in recognising that disasters pose a serious challenge to human security in India. Despite Indias high and steady economic growth in recent years, disasters deprive millions of poor Indians of the development opportunities that potentially accompany such growth. Since 2004 alone, India has faced two major disasters the Indian Ocean tsunami and the South Asia earthquake which between them killed more than 10,000 people.
Yet offsetting the variety of hazards facing India, the country is also home to a very rich and diverse civil society, including trade unions, institutes, NGOs and professional societies. The role of these institutions in disaster management has been widely recognised. Indias Disaster Management Act of 2005, as well as international agreements such as the HFA, stress the distinctive role of NGOs and community-based organisations (CBOs) in disaster relief and mitigation. Hundreds of Indian official and civil society organisations presented their ideas and showcased their efforts at the First IDMC. In just one of several sessions, a total of 91 papers were submitted from individuals in 22 disciplines, from 86 organisations. Simply to organise the sheer volume of papers and new information was a challenge. The HFA again proved a useful tool for analysing hundreds of these papers. The HFA was used to identify current topics that are being researched, as well as pointing out areas where more research is required to support the HFA.
The submitted papers demonstrated that non-governmental and other civil society organisations activities can take various forms and can be on various different scales. Some specialised NGOs might address only one area of disaster management, such as the provision of health services. Other civil society organisations are able to run large programmes in several regions, addressing a number of aspects of disaster management by reducing underlying risk, strengthening response capacities and advocating policy changes. All of these activities make a contribution towards risk reduction in India. These efforts may be organised and understood by placing the topics of each paper into the respective Hyogo Framework priority area that the paper discussed.
Joint process review: UNIFEM Partners in Sri Lanka
The HFA has been useful in evaluating, summarising and communicating the risk reduction efforts of local womens organisations involved in tsunami recovery. For example, UNIFEM supported the efforts of 18 local partners in sustainable recovery, focusing on womens needs in Sri Lanka. This was a demand-driven effort. UNIFEM and its partners addressed a large number of priority areas for action in the tsunami response in Sri Lanka, with a specific emphasis on gender. The HFA was used to organise concrete contributions to risk reduction, as well as to communicate recommendations for each partner.
HFA is supple and agile; it can be applied to our own local needs and activities if suitable processes are developed and resources human and financial are allocated to civil society organisations to reclaim ownership. HFA means many things to many organisations. By maintaining this multiplicity of meanings, we can continue to constructively own HFA. Its sustainability lies more in resourcing such applications and innovations, rather than achieving pre-planned outputs and outcomes in a projectised way. In the end, the HFA must remain in our joint custody, a shared heritage of civil society.
Mihir Bhatt is the Honorary Director of the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute. His email address is: email@example.com.