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Chapter 11.2 Policy, regulation, accountability and advocacy

Accountability: general principles and approaches

Photo: Bob McMillan / FEMA Photo 15440

DRR requires collaboration between governments, citizens and other stakeholders such as NGOs and the private sector (see Chapter 4). Communities and individuals have an important role to play (see Chapter 6), but will often require some level of external support to reduce risks and manage crises, as well as to scale up local and community-based initiatives and agencies’ individual projects. The root causes of disasters often lie in political, economic and social conditions and trends, which must be addressed at national, regional and international levels.

This is a question of accountability. In general, accountability refers to the ways by which citizens ensure that governments and others in positions of power and influence fulfil their obligations to society as a whole. It means that those in power should be:

  • compliant: accepting that it is their duty to account for their decisions and actions;
  • transparent: giving an account and making relevant information available (easily and in an accessible format) so that this can be monitored; and
  • responsive: reviewing decisions and actions, and making the necessary improvements.+E. Polack, E. M. Luna and J. Dator-Bercilla, Accountability for Disaster Risk Reduction: Lessons from the Philippines (Brighton: Institute for Development Studies, 2010), http://www.alnap.org/resource/9110.

In DRR, accountability is a mechanism for ensuring public institutions and other organisations fulfil their duties and responsibilities to vulnerable people. The principle of accountability lies at the heart of genuine participation and community involvement in disaster reduction (see Chapter 6). It can be applied to everyone, from village elders to the United Nations. It applies to state institutions, which are expected to be accountable through the democratic process, and to private sector and non-profit organisations, which are not subject directly to democratic control. Although a universal principle, it allows for plenty of variation in method.

The humanitarian sector has recognised the importance of accountability for a number of years, and established and influential institutions and processes support and promote humanitarian accountability actions and standards internationally. These include the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAPI) and the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP).+See http://www.alnap.org; http://www.hapinternational.org. Accountability is still an emerging issue in DRR. More examples of practical approaches in different contexts, and further comparative study and analysis, are needed before comprehensive guidelines of good practice can be developed.

Accountability is not straightforward. Agencies are accountable in many different ways: to the people they aim to help, to partners, to donors, to their own mandates and to the legislative frameworks in which they operate. Accountability functions in three main directions:

  1. Downwards – to beneficiaries, local partner agencies, staff and supporters.
  2. Upwards – to boards of management, donors and higher levels of government.
  3. Horizontally – to partner organisations, principally through sharing of information and resources and joint decision-making.

In practice, most interventions involve all three kinds of accountability, but the balance is crucial. All too often, disaster (and other) professionals concentrate on upwards accountability at the expense of horizontal and downwards accountability. This reflects the dominant influence of donors and national governments in disaster and development work, manifested most visibly in the movement towards rigid formats, bureaucratic reporting, short-term quantitative targets and standardised indicators. The very fact that there are multiple lines of accountability can lead to confusion operationally, and problems often arise from the difficulty of setting priorities and reconciling competing demands. Accountability should be primarily towards those who are vulnerable to hazards and affected by them. Listening to disaster-affected people is essential in identifying problems and priorities, as we have seen, as well as being an essential step towards letting people take part in, and exercise some control over, DRR decision-making and processes.

External forces are not the only drivers of accountability. Many organisations – especially not-for-profit ones – see improved accountability as valuable in itself, because it improves their performance. Value-driven organisations are more likely to adopt accountability for principled reasons.