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Preparing for the Worst: Implementing Sustainable Disaster Management Systems in the Indian Ocean

Submitted by on 09 Mar 2012 – 11:53

Disaster managementBy Ben Kimber, Editorial Researcher, Government Gazette

The Indian Ocean shares its coastline with a number of nations, some wealthy and some developing. It is a place where trade and investment can form the basis for developing closer regional ties. It is also a place where some of the effects of climate change are most prevalent.

Mauritius, located off the south east coast of Africa is particularly vulnerable. The Mauritius Meteorological Service says an increase in extreme weather events such as cyclones, along with sea level rise are issues confronting the island nation.

Some countries are looking to combat the threat posed by man made climate change by implementing policies to protect the environment.

The former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed pledged to make his country carbon-neutral by 2020. Located South-west of Sri Lanka and India the group of low-lying islands that make up the Maldives are predicted to be the first to face the consequences of rising sea levels.

It isn’t just nations situated by the coast though that are susceptible to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.

The earthquake and subsequent Tsunami in Japan on 11 March last year reminded the world of how a placid body of water can so quickly become an unstoppable tide, sweeping in land for kilometres and requiring a major recovery effort.

Established not long after the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, The Hyogo Framework for Action: Building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters set out a ten-year framework to improve disaster management systems.

A Mid-term review conducted in 2011 looked at the measures implemented by nations working towards the goal of a ‘substantial reduction of disaster losses, in the lives and in the social, economic and environmental assets of communities and countries’.

It found at a national level there is still confusion of who is in charge at the time of a disaster, therefore creating uncertainty in the area of accountability. Steady progress is noted as being made though in the area of disaster risk reduction.

The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction has acknowledged the ambitious nature of the framework, but prescribes that the plan is necessary to facilitate irreversible change in the psyche of governments and citizens alike.

The United Nations Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (2011) found that although the likelihood of being killed by a natural disaster such as a cyclone or flood has decreased in developed wealthier nations the rate amongst people in developing, weaker governed countries has stayed the same.

The impact on economic stability of nations affected by disasters is particularly significant and only compounded by the current economic climate. It is often said the cost of inaction far out weighs the cost of action. Investing in preventative measures such as building sustainable and strong infrastructure is considered crucial in lessening the blow both financially and psychologically from a natural calamity.

On the 12th of October 2011, 23 nations took part in an exercise to test the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System. The simulation of a disaster on the scale of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami was held with bulletins being issued to participating nations and evacuations of some coastal communities taking place. The drill was deemed an early success and billed as an example of how nations can work together in the immediate aftermath of a widespread incident.

Beyond the planning and preparation processes is the response. Citing the ongoing drought, matched with political instability in parts of Africa as one example, there have been numerous cases where large amounts of foreign aid have been misused, intercepted by rebels and corrupt government officials instead of going to where it was intended, no doubt resulting in greater losses.

The misappropriation of donations is also more likely to occur when the area they are intended to go to is not clearly understood between the institutions and organisations responsible for the collection and delivery of the aid.

The utilisation of information and innovations in communications technology is seen as one way of overcoming the impediment of distance and lack of knowledge from those on both the inside and outside of communities. At the heart of the success of any implemented program is the level of community involvement and awareness.

The assessment process and rebuild aspects of disaster management are helped by the attitude of those affected, which is formed through their treatment in the stages leading up to, during and after a disaster.

Technology and community participation must surely be the most powerful means by which nations can achieve goals within and beyond the Hyogo Framework for action.

The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world’s oceans. In that fact alone lies the magnitude and complex nature of the issue of disaster management, requiring relationships between governments, organisations and communities at a depth figuratively similar to that of the ocean itself.

A two-day conference, Preparing for the Worst: Implementing Sustainable Disaster Management Systems in the Indian Ocean canvassing discussion on all of these issues will be held in Mauritius in 2012.