Integrating disaster risk reduction and climate action for resilience

Scientists have long advised that the peak intensity of severe storms would increase as temperatures rise, and in addition, the time taken to achieve these new peaks would be shortened. The 2017 hurricane season in the Caribbean is evidence of this, with a higher frequency of more intense hurricanes.

The results have been tragic loss of life and widespread devastation, and within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), more than 160,000 people have been directly affected and countless others indirectly affected. The case of Dominica shows the overwhelming power of these storms, where losses in the key economic sectors of tourism and agriculture are calculated to be 100 percent. The impact of Hurricane Maria and Irma across all affected states is not merely an indicator that climate change is causing more powerful storms, but importantly it is a stark reminder of the existing vulnerability and risk exposure of the Caribbean that has remained unchecked.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) work together in the Caribbean to achieve greater resilience. UNDP and CDEMA recognize that key actions are required to develop appropriate conceptual frameworks for the harmonization of risk within a development context, where climate change is seen as a catalyst to risk, and where key attention and investment is directed to tackling the underlying drivers.

In the present context, we are collaborating on advancing people-centred Early Warning Systems, and have also identified opportunities for collaboration on risk information platforms, community resilience building and South-South cooperation to transfer good practices in integrated risk management. In this collaboration, we are mindful that the expected effects of a changing climate will require a forceful, coordinated and integrated response from all actors.

There is an increasing call for a broader range of approaches between different development agendas, including international frameworks such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

These global agendas reinforce each other. However, moving away from a traditional response-focused approach to disasters, to one that takes into account the underlying social constructs of risk – the risk drivers and unsustainable development models – is needed to bring a real transformation on the issues of resilience, poverty and exclusion.

Multiple solutions are needed to achieve meaningful results. Governments at all levels must work together in an integrated way, facilitating the enhancement of risk knowledge and education that will invariably empower populations to make the right decisions for their protection and to better prepare and take advantage of significant opportunities for improvement.

The carnage wreaked by the hurricanes in the Caribbean in the past few months have only served to clarify the important work that needs to be done. Building back better is not a choice for these CARICOM nations; it is their only option. To increase resilience requires a balance to be struck between knowledge, control and governance. Trade-offs and hard decisions will have to be taken in the area of development control and land management. Other tools, such as tax incentives, insurance and building codes, can foster responsible practices that reduce risks and deter malpractices that increase risks.

Partnerships like the one between UNDP and CDEMA are crucial to success in building capacity that leads to a solid platform to build resilience from. More often than not it is a case where one added to one makes three. The specific expertise of each affiliate can be leveraged and complimented against the other, allowing the partnership to deliver a more comprehensive form of assistance that accounts for a wider range of inputs and considerations than one alone could do.