Do you know what Dzud is? Dzud is a slow-onset and recurring hazard, quite unique to the steppes of Mongolia. It is the combination of summer drought and winter freeze: heavy snow and freezing temperatures in winter prevent people and livestock already weakened by intense summer droughts to access pastures, causing widespread starvation and loss of livestock.
Convening the 2018 Asia Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, may have been an organisational challenge (given the limited accessibility of the country), but it was certainly effective in highlighting the issue of disaster risk in this country. It also provided an opportunity for countries in the region to take stock of their progress in achieving the targets of the Sendai Framework and agree on a new biennial plan of action for DRR in the region.
AMCDRR 2018 ran from 3 to 6 July 2018, under the theme of preventing disaster risks to protect sustainable development. The issues of coherence and risk-informed development were central to several sessions of the conference: a wide variety of government representatives from Asia and the Pacific highlighted their work in integrating DRR into development and climate change plans at national and local level. Civil society and other non-government actors were also very active in ensuring that DRR is looked at holistically: side-events from GNDR members focused on resilience to climate extremes (ADPC), DRR and health (ADRRN), and urban resilience and reconstruction (NSET), among many other topics.
Dzud itself is an example of how a coherent approach can reduce the risk of disasters. The phenomenon is the combined effect of natural hazards, climate change and unsustainable development: harsher climate extremes, together with over-extensive land use, has led to an increased frequency and intensity of this phenomenon. While this has been traditionally dealt with from a humanitarian response angle, more focus is needed on prevention and risk mitigation. To improve community resilience to dzud, early warning systems that can spot the first signs of drought are being developed in conjunction with changes to pastoral practices and land use.
Refugees in disasters are also a high priority for the region, and several CSOs and governments have raised attention on the ongoing Rohingya crisis in south-east Asia (ActionAid Bangladesh). Linked to the issue of humanitarian crises is the need to consider the special situation of DRR in fragile states, as was highlighted by ODI’s report launch on DRR in contexts of fragile countries in Asia.
Localisation and community involvement at all levels were central to the discussions. GNDR and partners contributed to this conversation with a side event on community-based disaster risk management: framed as a cooking session, national partners and local actors from India and the Philippines presented the key ingredients for sustainable and institutionalised CBDRM, as resulted from a case study analysis and workshop that was conducted earlier this year.
Localisation was highlighted by SRSG Mami Mizutori herself during a bilateral meeting with representatives of CSOs from the GNDR network. She stressed the need to reach the people at the frontline of disasters and the importance of civil society involvement in policy-making and advocacy for DRR.
However, the organisation of this AMCDRR made it difficult to bring about the kind of all-of-society approach that fosters exchange between governments, CSOs and other non-governmental actors. While the main sessions of the conference were taking place in one location, the side events (mainly organised by non-government actors) were happening elsewhere. During the two core days of the conference, we saw little presence of government representatives at side events. A culture of knowledge and experience sharing is key if we are to promote coherence, inclusiveness and localisation.
Knowledge and experience sharing was at the centre of ADRRN’s “Asian Local Leaders Forum for Disaster Resilience” (ALL4DR), an event to celebrate the role of local champions in increasing resilience at local level. Local leaders, from mayors to community volunteers, were awarded a prize in recognition of their work and their engagement in DRR at community level, with a special focus on the development and implementation of DRR and resilience strategies.
It was a packed couple of days in which much was achieved, but much more remains to be done. The newly adopted Action Plan 2018-2020 of the Asia Regional Plan for Implementation of SFDRR sets the direction for the work to do in the region over the next two years. Focusing on coherence, local action, and gender and inclusiveness in DRR, governments in the region are committed to achieving Target E of SFDRR, as well as fostering a culture of risk-informed development in their policies and actions. The role of civil society and local communities will be all the more important if we are to ensure that DRR strategies, policies and plans are effective at all levels. Civil society stands ready to work together with governments in ensuring that dzud and other hazards do not lead to disastrous events.
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