Invest for Disaster Risk Reduction to Reduce Poverty

Shishir Reza

18 October, 2019 12:00 AM printer

Invest for Disaster Risk Reduction to Reduce Poverty

Shishir Reza

One of the key sustainable development goals for us is to reduce poverty. Disaster is one of the major challenges to reducing poverty in a sustainable manner. Poverty degrades environment and degraded environment or ecology magnifies the consequences of disasters. Disasters also compel people to live in poverty through depletion of their assets (land erosion, death of livestock and birds, reduction in production) and loss of employment. There is also the problem of decreased income due to lack of diversified skill, market, and opportunity. This situation leads them to increased debts, with a high rate of interest from the formal and informal sectors. Ultimately they opt for migration to urban areas. Thus poor people lose their land in the national economic and social life and also lose their traditional social support system. It is always the extreme poor populations everywhere that are the most vulnerable.

Disaster undermines the development process. Development, if not risk sensitive, can induce disaster. Risk, if not addressed by development process, can be a huge cost for development of capital investment. Social sector development and capacity enhancement will suffer a setback. Therefore, risk reduction through development is not expenditure; it should be considered as an investment to sustain the development achievements. It is time to reinterpret the development process and risk reduction understanding. We should transform our consumption and production process. Rethinking about water, environment, ecology, waste management, natural resource use, energy use, infrastructure building, agricultural practices and urbanisation is also urgently required. Otherwise, our development may be at risk from even moderate shocks. These are not directly connected with the magnitude of an earthquake or flood or fault lines, but rather with inequality, non-inclusive growth and power structures.

The consequences of disasters are very high in low human development countries. That is why low human development and disaster consequences are interlinked. To make progress in sustained development, we must focus on human development aspects. Present discourse on disaster management identifies disaster as failed development. Failed development means that the development process does not incorporate present and future risk. Risk, if disregarded in the development process, will not be mitigated. Proper development protects people from all kinds of threats. Disaster consequences will be extensive and wide due to unplanned and short-sighted considerations. If a building, hospital, school, bridge, or road collapses, it is the failure of development. We must consider that we want development to improve the quality of life. But if it is unwisely planned, it will bring more miseries than before. We need new ideas and attitudes and ready to redefine the development. All development efforts, initiatives and investment need to be risk-informed and guided by the principle of sustainability.

Risk is the function of three variables: hazard, vulnerability and capacity. Development process may have less significant role in reshaping the consequences of many hazards, such as earthquakes. Development has a wider and significant role in reducing vulnerability. The development process must examine the process – whether it is generating vulnerability or not. It is agreed that development gains mean that vulnerability is reduced. On the other hand, development gains mean capacity development and improved resilience of the society and economy. Therefore, development means risk reduced through vulnerability reduction and capacity enhancement. This reduction initiative to priorities hazard considers the sensitivity of the sector, like food production and exposure to threats like cyclone, salinity and earthquake. All sectors may not be equally sensitive and all communities or segments of the population may not equally be exposed. Development priority should target the exposed poor and disadvantaged population, because the burden of disaster is unequal. The poor and disadvantaged are impacted more severely. Growth has to be inclusive. Otherwise, it cannot be beneficial to all and can create a condition of fragility. In such a situation, a small shock may invite great loss.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has identified five obstacles to economic development this year. These are income inequality, climate change, increasing polarisation of societies, cyber-attacks and increase of the elderly population. These are either the underlying risk factors or are the result of disasters. Therefore, we can say the challenge towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is how to manage risk through collaborative efforts of government organisations, NGOs, and the private sector, to reshape their development pathway. Nearly thirty percent of our people are living in urban areas, and this is rising rapidly. Public and private investments are located in and around cities making urban areas the centre of growth. But if it is mostly unplanned, this can be the death trap. Recent experiences justify the statement.

Disaster risk reduction is considered as a public sector responsibility, overlooking the role of the private sector. It will be the most difficult part to motivate the private sector to develop a self-regulation culture. Ensuring people's participation at all levels in a meaningful way is a complex task. The dynamics of underlying factors are very complex to ensure the participation in the form of a decentralised system.

There is no dearth of rules and regulation, but the level, quality, attitude and support from the society are also necessary. There are more than a hundred laws and rules to regulate the construction sector, but we know there is the lack of enforcement. This is the outcome of social, economic and power dynamics. Every member of society has to support, collaborate and help for achieving change.

However, financial institutions-supported outcomes to reduce poverty are: Build 320 solar irrigation pumps benefiting 8,000 farmers; Support 17,500-hectare block plantations and 2,000-kilometer strip plantations from flooding and saline intrusion; Provide basic adaptive services for 40,000 families; Offer trainings on alternative livelihoods for 6,000 poor households in 200 communities; Construct 224 new cyclone shelters and repair 387 kilometres of embankment; Provide 3.95 million remote households and rural shops with solar home systems, which increased access to electricity Install seven mini-grids to provide continuous electricity to 2,000 rural businesses and shops; Distribute clean, energy-efficient cook stoves to 750,000 rural women.


The Writer is an Environmental Analyst & Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association.