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Jessica Lea/DFID

Chapter 17.1 Risk reduction after disaster

Introduction

Photo: Jessica Lea/DFID

Relief, rehabilitation and recovery initiatives should contribute to long-term development and the reduction of vulnerability – they should not simply reconstruct the existing risk. Ideas about how to do this have been discussed widely for a number of years, in various forms (the ‘relief-development continuum’ or ‘developmental relief’ in the 1990s; ‘recovery plus’ or ‘build back better’ in more recent times). There is plenty of debate about the meaning of the different terms and concepts, and their merits and drawbacks. Operationally, it may be simpler to look for similarities in their basic principles, which can be summed up as follows:

  • intervene at the earliest possible stage in the disaster cycle to reduce future vulnerability;
  • incorporate development principles into relief operations (e.g. build up local capacities, adopt participatory approaches);
  • use relief not just to meet immediate needs but also to restore livelihood assets and rebuild livelihoods;
  • use disaster relief to develop infrastructure that will be of value after the emergency is over; and
  • take the opportunity to induce positive socio-economic change, not merely a return to the status quo.

The main opportunities for introducing DRR are through recovery. Originally seen as a distinct linking phase between emergency response/relief and development, recovery is now seen more as a continuing process that may take place alongside relief and development, and ideally is integrated with them. Recovery interventions should aim to restore and improve disaster victims’ physical, socio-economic and environmental conditions. However, recovery is a complex, long-term process, with many different dimensions relating to society, the economy, infrastructure, the built environment, ecosystems and institutions. These are all connected and interact. Recovery processes are not necessarily linear or uniform; they can be interrupted or come to a halt; they operate at a range of scales; social groups may reach recovery milestones through varied pathways and at different times; and the nature and speed of recovery depends on what people are recovering from and the conditions under which the recovery takes place.

The initial steps towards recovery (often called the ‘early recovery’ phase) are key moments for incorporating DRR. Early recovery starts in the humanitarian response period but works on more developmental lines. It seeks to ensure that humanitarian inputs contribute to longer-term self-reliance and resilience, building on humanitarian lifesaving assistance by supporting community actions and laying the foundations for recovery and development. It includes restoration of basic services, livelihoods support, provision of transitional shelter, establishing or re-establishing appropriate governance, ensuring security and the rule of law, environmental management or remediation and addressing other socio-economic issues, including land tenure and security and the reintegration of displaced people (in a conflict setting it also includes political processes).

There are fundamental challenges and tensions in early recovery. The immediate priorities of humanitarian response must be balanced against the opportunity to work towards longer-term needs. Developmental approaches may be unsuited to some crisis contexts, while humanitarian interventions often fail to lay foundations for enduring recovery. In any case, integrated recovery planning requires time, skilled personnel and widespread engagement. Institutional programming and donor funding schedules often set dates for completion of relief, early recovery and long-term recovery phases, but in reality humanitarian and recovery efforts overlap. It is unrealistic to expect communities to return to some kind of normality soon: human and material losses generally leave them more vulnerable than before. Post-disaster adjustment and adaptation last for years – often for decades – and disaster impacts can alter the environment, societies and economies irreversibly. Relief, recovery and development programmes need to take account of this ‘new normal’.