Disaster Risk Management and Development: A Reconsideration of Relations

Allan Lavell [i], 2015 Laureate of the UN Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction, calls for a reimagining of the relationship between the disaster risk reduction community and those working on ‘development.’  

It is a well-known and often-stated fact, even if spurious and lacking in precision in its specification, that disasters impact development, particularly women, men and children least favoured by economic growth  policies. Academics, practitioners and civil society accept that disaster risk (and thus, disaster) may be explained by the workings of underlying root causes, expressed as risk drivers of the now dominant development paradigm. Disaster risk is now seen   in terms of its extensive and intensive manifestations and relations to chronic, quotidian risk, mostly captured in the workings of poverty.  Even though, conceptually and causally, the endogenous as opposed to exogenous interpretations of risk prevail, this has not translated into how society attempts to reduce or control future risk.

Dissonance exists between theory and practice. Endogeny is talked about, but because of path dependencies, status quo, political expediency and needs, and economic imperatives (capital, gain and wealth among others), it is exogeny, with its lower political and economic impact and significance, that is adhered to.  Thus, even while disasters are being increasingly explained by failed development practices, disaster response carries on using methods that see disasters as external impacts on current development and on those who should benefit from it.  We expect disaster risk management and climate change adaptation to render sustainable the very development model that is causing risk and disaster.    A complete contradiction in terms and logic, the result of which is that disaster risk has grown  far more quickly over the last 40  years of neoliberalism and globalisation than the achievements of the well-intentioned but ephemeral attempts to reduce it.  

So what is the technocratic way in which it has been suggested that DRM and CCA are used to increase sustainability and lower development losses?  The answer is through “mainstreaming” DRM and CCA into development practice and decisions, making risk analysis and decisions a part of development decision making at a sector, regional, city or local level. Specialists in DRM and CCA are called upon to introduce into the model of development elements that improve its performance or sustainability, even though unsustainability, risk and lack of adaptation are products of that very same model or its historical manifestations. The contradiction is obvious. In dealing with DRM and CCA as “sectors,” separate from, but supposedly complementary to, development planning and practice, we are exogenising risk and disaster as opposed to endogenising them. Instead of placing such concerns in the list of priority considerations for development, we are introducing them as complementary development reinforcing actions in models where risk is seen as gain for some and loss for others. Decades of environmental destruction through deforestation, mangrove cutting, city construction without concern for drainage etc, growing numbers of poor people (now 2 billion on US$2 dollars a day), selective processes of exclusion from development benefits and social networks, etc., have meant increasing numbers of people at risk. And even the advanced private sector seems to prefer short-term gain to long-term stability and locates itself more and more in hazard prone areas that have a large alternative resource base.

So can mainstreaming resolve this dilemma? Of course not, or not as it has been conceived to date in many places.  What we need is not mainstreaming of DRM or CCA or gender or environment into development practice, but for development practice and planning and policy to firmly include disaster and quotidian risk, gender inequality, environmental and service depletion etc in its DNA, as the ISDR Global  Assessment Report insists in its 2015 version. Such facets have to be the defining principles of development practice not add-ons from outside. How can we accept that development be defined in a way that increases the possibilities of dying or losing your livelihoods, being excluded from the benefits due to gender or environmental considerations etc?  The time has come to end the existence of a sector called DRM or CCA that attempts to sell their speciality to those in a development sector. The DRM and CCA sector needs to unemploy itself. Instead, development sectors and interests need to take up the DRM and CCA themes autonomously and according to their own collective and redefined dynamics and definitions of what development is and should be.


[i] Born in Britain but based in Latin America for much his life, Allan Lavell is a respected researcher and practitioner in disaster risk reduction. He was a founding member of the Network of Social Studies in the Prevention of Disasters in Latin America (LA RED) in 1992 and, through a long-term relationship with the Latin American Social Science Faculty (FLACSO), has achieved a position of influence within the region and beyond. His work in the field spans nearly three decades and is marked by multidisciplinary, multi-actor, holistic, participatory and comparative approaches.  He believes that his contribution to shaping the future has been achieved primarily through the development and dissemination of notions, ideas, concepts and empirical evidence gained from and through academic research and published in dozens of books, journals and websites.

Read 3815 times Last modified on Monday, 20 April 2015 11:55

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated. HTML code is not allowed.