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Chapter 11.4 Policy, regulation, accountability and advocacy

Accountability methods

Photo: Bob McMillan / FEMA Photo 15440

[:en]Many methods have been used to make risk and disaster managers more accountable to the vulnerable. They vary greatly in approach. The choice of methods in a given situation must be determined by local circumstances and contexts. Many accountability initiatives are voluntary: those who subscribe to or take part in them wish to make themselves and their actions more accountable. But when key actors are not interested in accountability or dialogue, more forceful or even confrontational approaches may be adopted. The sections that follow indicate some of the options available and comment on their application. This coverage is not comprehensive. There is room for much more research on the subject, especially to identify the most effective approaches.

11.4.1 Giving disaster-affected people a voice

For all the advances in participatory approaches discussed in Chapter 6, the views of those affected by disasters and those at risk are still rarely listened to, valued or understood. However, a number of techniques can be used to give people a voice and so help disaster agencies make their interventions more appropriate.

Life stories and oral histories, which are commonly used in participatory learning and action, reveal people’s vulnerabilities and capacities as well as their experiences of coping with disasters. These methods and others used in participatory vulnerability analysis (see Chapter 3) or other participatory learning and action practices (see Chapter 6) can provide a starting point for awareness-raising and advocacy at local and higher levels. They can help make external actors in DRR more aware of people’s needs and capacities, and responsive to them, especially where institutional stakeholders have been involved in the process. However, they do not guarantee this, and more sustained mechanisms may be needed.

Disasters sometimes stimulate the creation of organisations of affected people to engage in reconstruction and other DRR or development activities. These often originate through intervention by external NGOs and are specific to particular places or communities. Building vulnerable communities’ awareness and organisational capacities makes them conscious of their entitlements, improves their bargaining power and enables them to engage more effectively with local authorities. Formal participation in decision-making bodies helps to consolidate this. Sometimes, broader coalitions of disaster victims are formed, either for mutual support or to lobby for policy change, more effective vulnerability reduction and post-disaster assistance (see Case Study 11.1: A voice for disaster-affected people). Nevertheless, there is plenty of scope for policymakers and practitioners to engage more extensively and deeply with those who are vulnerable and at risk, to understand their perspectives and priorities and stimulate more collaborative problem-solving.+One model for this could be CDA’s work with recipients of international aid: see M. B. Anderson, D. Brown and I. Jean, Time To Listen: Hearing People on the Receiving End of International Aid (Cambridge, MA: CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, 2012),

Case Study 11.1 A voice for disaster-affected people

Disaster Action is a UK charity founded in 1991 by disaster survivors and people bereaved as a result of disasters. It is an informal network with membership open to anyone in the UK with direct personal experience of a disaster, wherever it took place. It offers support through information, contact through email and telephone and family and survivor support groups. It also raises awareness of their short- and long-term needs, gives advice to government, emergency services and NGOs and takes part in formal consultations about policy and legislative change.

The National Flood Forum, established in the UK in 2002, represents communities and individuals at risk from flooding, supporting 160 local flood groups. It aims to help flood victims recover from and improve resilience to flooding. In its advocacy, it works with government agencies, the insurance industry and other organisations to ensure that the views and needs of people at risk are taken into account in policy- and decision-making.

Disaster Action:; National Flood Forum:

11.4.2 Standards, charters and codes of conduct

Several codes of conduct and sets of common standards have emerged in the emergency and humanitarian response field since the 1990s, although their humanitarian response focus means that they tend to say relatively little about DRR (see Box 11.2: Standards and codes for humanitarian and emergency response).

Box 11.2 Standards and codes for humanitarian and emergency response

Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief:

Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and Natural Disasters:

International Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) Minimum Standards for Education:

People in Aid Code:

Sphere project:

The idea of developing charters or standards specifically for DRR has been talked about a good deal in recent years. This has not led to much concerted action, but there have been a few individual initiatives. In 2009 an international standard for risk management (ISO 31000) was issued by the International Organization for Standardization to provide businesses and other organisations with principles and general guidelines for identifying and dealing with risks. More recently, gender standards for disaster risk management have been developed in Afghanistan. The Sendai Declaration contains a call for action to ‘Promote the development of quality standards, such as certifications and awards for disaster risk management’.+ISO 31000: Overview and Implications for Managers, InConsult,; Gender Standard for Disaster Risk Management, Badakshan, Afghanistan, Department of Women’s Affairs and Afghan National Disaster Management Authority, 2013,;

12.4.3 Bringing pressure to bear on decision-makers

Over many years, disaster workers have been engaged in activities that bring pressure to bear on governments, politicians and other institutional decision-makers. Non-state actors in particular have an important role to play in lobbying for better policies and regulations, and for the enforcement of those already in place: this includes challenging decisions and plans that may increase risk. They can also press governments, international aid agencies and NGOs to respond more effectively to the needs of people at risk from hazards or who are victims of disasters. Advocacy initiatives should be well informed and well prepared. Direct experience and information gathered from the field (e.g. through VCAs or community-based projects) can be influential here. Advocacy can take many forms, from large-scale public campaigns to confidential meetings or private conversations with key decision-makers; often it involves a mixture of complementary activities.

Disasters can create opportunities for change by prompting critical reflection on how and why the disaster occurred. Major disasters may stimulate new policies and legislation, the restructuring of disaster management institutions and revisions of codes and regulations. Civil society organisations can take advantage of these openings, but they need to have good evidence and analysis of existing weaknesses, workable ideas and plans for improvement and a strong collective voice: this seems to have been the case in the passing of the 2010 Disaster Management Act in the Philippines, for example (see Case Study 11.2: Advocacy for policy and legislative change).

Case Study 11.2 Advocacy for policy and legislative change

The Philippines is a very hazard-prone country, with considerable experience of disasters. Many local NGOs have been working in DRR for a number of years, particularly in support of community-based action. However, until 2010 the government’s approach to disaster management was based on legislation passed in the 1970s. There was some decentralisation, with local governments being given calamity funds, but these could only be used for post-disaster relief and recovery. Reform of the disaster management system was not a political priority, and several formal proposals for new legislation had become bogged down in Congress.

A combination of factors served to break the deadlock. The main influence, probably, was widespread and effective lobbying, particularly by Disaster Risk Reduction Network Philippines (DRRNetPhils), a broad-based coalition of civil society stakeholders (see Case Study 4.11: Global and national networks for disaster reduction), but the need for reform was generally acknowledged among both government and civil society. A series of severe tropical storms in 2009 finally stimulated action. A bill submitted early the following year quickly passed through Congress and came into law in May 2010 as the Philippines Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act.

The act commits the government to addressing the root causes of vulnerability, building community resilience, strengthening institutional capacities for disaster risk reduction and management (especially at local levels), promoting the involvement of all sectors and stakeholders (particularly communities), mainstreaming DRR and CCA into development processes, and integrating DRR into school curricula and the mandatory training given to public sector employees. Local government calamity funds can now be applied to a wider range of DRM activities. A new disaster risk management framework has been established to support an all-hazard, multi-sector, inter-agency and community-based approach, and NGOs are represented on the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

C. Benson, Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction into Development: Challenges and experiences in the Philippines (Geneva: Provention Consortium, 2009),; IFRC, Disaster Risk Reduction: A Global Advocacy Guide (Geneva: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 2012), p. 39;, p. 39; Congress of the Philippines, Republic Act No. 10121, 2012,; World Vision International, Disaster Risk Reduction and Community Resilience Case Study Series, 2011, pp. 23–26.

11.4.4 Auditing DRR

Some innovations in accountability take the form of an auditing process by independent organisations, civil society groups or communities. They include social audits, report cards, citizens’ juries, public expenditure tracking and policy monitoring. Case Study 11.3 (Social audit after Hurricane Mitch) describes an unusual example of national-level social auditing of reconstruction plans after a major disaster. Report cards have been given out to disaster victims during relief operations to evaluate the performance of the agencies that have come to help them. Financial tracking systems and complaints mechanisms have been set up in the aftermath of disasters to provide more accountability concerning the use of relief and recovery assistance. For example, the IFRC and British Red Cross set up free phone lines for questions and complaints relating to their shelter and community regeneration initiatives in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. A large number of calls were received, and this feedback led to improvements in programme delivery and quality.+IFRC, Beneficiary Communication and Accountability: A Responsibility, Not a Choice. Lessons Learned and Recommendations, Indonesia, Haiti, Pakistan (Geneva: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 2011),

Public scrutiny or tracking of national or local government plans, service delivery, budgets and expenditure can bring issues of cost-effectiveness and equity into the open, and expose weaknesses in planning and gaps between plans and practice. Participatory budgeting has proved to be an effective development tool for improving basic services in many parts of the world.+Y. Cabannes, Contribution of Participatory Budgeting to Provision and Management of Basic Services: Municipal Practices and Evidence from the Field (London: International Institute for Environment and Development, 2014), There is considerable experience of these approaches in development contexts that could be applied to DRR. Policy monitoring involves gathering evidence on specific policies, using that evidence to evaluate the policies’ strengths and weaknesses and using the evidence and analysis to lobby for policy change and improved implementation. Community-led policy monitoring can be particularly effective with local government. Different approaches to community-led DRR policy monitoring, and their effectiveness in different contexts, need to be studied further, but some practical guidance is beginning to appear.+Christian Aid has produced a set of practice notes based on its field experiences in a number of countries: Christian Aid, Community-Led Policy Monitoring for Disaster Risk Reduction: Implementing the Hyogo Framework for Action at Local Level (London: Christian Aid, undated), At the global level, the Views from the Frontline initiative (see also Chapter 4) collects a broad range of perspectives from communities, local authorities and civil society organisations, and feeds these into the UN system’s biennial reviews of progress.+See

The International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) has developed an international standard for auditing governments’ DRR performance (ISSAI 5510).+ISSAI 5510: The Audit of Disaster Risk Reduction (Vienna: INTOSAI, 2013), Auditing approaches such as these can be effective in persuading governments to listen and respond to people’s needs and aspirations. However, a good understanding of political structures, policy actors and processes is needed in order to know whom to influence, how to influence them and when it is appropriate to act. It also takes time and organisational commitment to keep up the pressure on decision-makers.

Case Study 11.3 Social audit after Hurricane Mitch

Hurricane Mitch, which struck Central America in October 1998, was one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes in history. In February 1999 a coalition of over 320 Nicaraguan non-governmental and social organisations carried out a ‘social audit’ in order to incorporate communities’ points of view into reconstruction planning. The audit surveyed more than 10,000 homes in 16 municipalities affected by Mitch. Community leaders, mayors and leaders of other local organisations were also interviewed. The audit provided evidence of the extent and nature of the losses suffered (both economic and psychological), but was particularly valuable in allowing victims to express their views about the quality, value and equity of the aid they had received, and how far victims’ views were taken into account.

CIET International, Social Audit for the Emergency and Reconstruction Phase 1 (Managua: Coordinadora Civil para la Emergencia y la Reconstrucción de Nicaragua, 1999).

11.4.5 Access to information

Access to relevant information is an essential element in improved accountability. Effective advocacy requires good information on hazards, risk and vulnerability, and the decisions, systems and processes that are used to plan and implement DRM. As we saw in Chapter 3, such information may not have been collected in many cases, or if it is can be inadequate or unavailable to the public. Moreover, access to information requires government support for the right to information and citizens’ awareness of their legal right and willingness to assert it.

11.4.6 Litigation

The law provides a potentially valuable tool for enforcing accountability. Legal action is obviously of value in gaining redress after a disaster, for example to ensure that victims of disasters are treated fairly in the allocation of relief resources and to secure compensation from those whose actions or negligence have led to disasters. Compensation and liability claims are often filed after industrial or environmental accidents, but they also feature in natural hazard events, for instance where physical mitigation measures such as flood embankments fail or warning procedures are not followed.

It is not clear how effective legal action can be as an instrument to ensure greater safety by reducing a potential risk. However, this may be possible through public interest litigation (i.e. seeking to remedy an actual or potential public grievance through the courts). In some countries this has been used to tackle issues such as human rights, environmental destruction, the handling of hazardous substances, pollution and the social and environmental consequences of development projects.

The extent to which the law has been invoked at different times and in different places to enforce DRR accountability and raise standards is unknown. Many countries’ disaster risk management legislation is relatively recent, and there has been little opportunity to test or challenge it in the courts. There may be considerable potential for using environmental law to stimulate and improve DRR. Environmental management is a key element in vulnerability reduction and environmental law is well established and wide-ranging, covering pollution and hazardous substances, planning, agriculture and biodiversity, conservation and land and water resource management.+A. K. Gupta and S. S. Nair, Environmental Legislation for Disaster Risk Management (New Delhi: National Institute for Disaster Management and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, 2012),

It is probable that the number of lawsuits brought by disaster victims and those who feel that they are being exposed to hazards will increase in the years to come. There are examples of success, such as legal action by communities and civil society organisations in New Orleans against a plan to put a waste dump of unsorted debris from Hurricane Katrina in a location close to human habitation and vulnerable to storm surge and flooding.+J. Handmer, E. Loh and W. Choong, ‘Using Law To Reduce Vulnerability to Natural Disasters’, Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy, 14 (1), 2007. However, legal action may also be an obstacle to more sustained, comprehensive disaster reduction because its adversarial nature can undermine opportunities for collective action.

11.4.7 Accountability and rights

The subject of rights occupies an important place in the debate about accountability. Many organisations working in international aid and development have committed themselves to a ‘rights-based’ approach. This tends to encompass both human rights (i.e. those that are internationally accepted through international agreements) and other rights that an agency believes should be accepted as human rights. In such contexts, the language of rights can sometimes be used vaguely, with a risk of causing confusion. Those advocating rights-based approaches to development tend to steer clear of definitions, focusing instead on frameworks for analysis, discussion and action. Terms such as ‘basic rights’ and ‘equal rights’ are often used in the development context to cover issues of access to aid and participation in decision-making.

International covenants on political, social, economic and cultural rights as well as national human rights legislation can be invoked on behalf of those affected by disasters, typically to challenge discriminatory practices that might increase risk or prevent equal access to humanitarian and recovery assistance after disasters. Security against disasters is not generally regarded as a right, although it is addressed in some international codes, usually indirectly. The idea of a ‘right to safety’ has been suggested: this is not the right to be completely safe, which is clearly unattainable, but the right to ‘the highest attainable standard of protection against natural and man-made hazards’.+J. Twigg, The Right to Safety: Some Conceptual and Practical Issues (London: UCL Hazard Centre, 2003), This appears to be consistent with some international human rights agreements, but poses problems in practice; safety is difficult to define, the precise nature, magnitude and extent of a hazard or risk may be unclear or disputed and the concept of a right to safety is likely to be challenged by those who fear it will increase their own liability (e.g. government and the private sector).

11.4.8 Accountability by proxy

Disaster agencies rarely give an account directly to disaster victims or potential victims. Although in the case of government agencies a degree of accountability can be achieved indirectly through the democratic process, the vulnerable and powerless – who make up the bulk of disaster victims in much of the world – are often not strong enough to call such agencies to account. They have to rely on others with more power and influence to speak out on their behalf. This can be called ‘accountability by proxy’.

NGOs or other disaster professionals may take it upon themselves to speak out on behalf of disaster victims. They may believe that there is a need to become involved in such work, and may argue that they have a responsibility to do so on behalf of those whose voices are not heard by decision-makers. However, they do not necessarily have a mandate from the people for this role (community associations and other membership-based organisations, on the other hand, can speak with some legitimacy). The issue is particularly important to NGOs, who are always vulnerable to challenge from elected authorities on this count. All non-state actors considering involvement in processes of this kind need to think about this carefully.

The media form an important proxy group, although their role in promoting disaster reduction is the subject of some debate. Sometimes they are clearly beneficial, for example in highlighting the failure of official relief services to reach those most in need, and in disseminating forecasts and warnings. However, the media tend to take a stereotyped view of disasters. They prefer stories of human tragedy to human ingenuity and they like to find people or organisations to blame, rather than considering the real causes of vulnerability. They may also perpetuate dangerous myths about disasters: one is that people affected by disasters are passive, helpless victims, when in reality they are active responders, both individually and collectively; another is that chaos, self-interest and criminality dominate the post-disaster scene, even though research shows consistently that altruism and mutual assistance are far more characteristic. They are also often influenced by other agendas, their own and those of other interest groups.

There has been much talk about educating the media to cover disasters in a way that more accurately reflects the reality, but the commercial pressures of international news-gathering are so great that such moves can make only slow headway. Significant, sustained efforts are needed to change media attitudes. Few NGOs are likely to have the resources to undertake this. Alternative news services run by non-profit organisations can take a more principled and strategic approach to the subject, but their outreach is likely to be very limited in comparison to that of the commercial media sector.

11.4.9 Organisation and association

Without participation and organisation advocacy is seriously weakened. Community-based organisations are more powerful than individuals; collective action by organisations is more effective than agencies acting alone. Coalitions and movements for change must be formed. In DRR, the growing number of national, regional and international networks involving NGOs and researchers has provided a powerful platform for advocacy on policy and practical issues (see Chapter 4). Much can be learned from the experiences and successes of collective action in other sectors.+Examples include the Self Employed Women’s Association in India and Shack/Slum Dwellers International. See http://www.sewa.org

Case Study 11.4 Informing implementation through community risk profiling

The Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR)’s Frontline programme creates community risk profiles to provide monitoring and advocacy evidence for more effective implementation of DRR. The programme is implemented by members of GNDR’s network of 750 civil society organisations. The key activity is a ‘conversation’ in which individuals and groups in a community identify the main threats facing them, their impacts, local actions that can be taken to reduce those impacts and barriers to effective action. These responses form risk profiles covering natural, economic, social and political threats. The profiles are used at local level to develop collaborations, build capacity and implement action plans. Local-level findings are then aggregated to produce national risk profiles, which can be used to inform and influence decision-makers and to monitor progress in DRR, CCA and sustainable development. Frontline was piloted in ten South American countries in 2014, involving more than 7,000 respondents, and in 2014–15 covered 21 countries in other parts of the world.

GNDR, ‘The Frontline Proposition (concept note)’, Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction, 2014,

Lobbying is difficult and requires sustained effort. Many calls for change fall on deaf ears. Many governments do not tolerate criticism and exert firm control over civil society organisations. In some countries advocacy can prove dangerous for those involved, especially if they challenge powerful vested interests. Even in more tolerant places advocacy needs to be objective and evidence-based: an overly confrontational approach can be counter-productive. The aim should be to seek critical engagement and partnership with government institutions.[:]