|A Research Agenda for Disaster and Emergency Management (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - Disaster Management Training Programme - United Nations Development Programme , 76 p.)|
8.1 Disaster relief is invariably reactive. A disaster or emergency occurs; immediate needs are locally assessed; an appeal for response is mobilized. The time-lag between a disaster event and the initial response is, by necessity, a brief one. Consequently, in most disaster situations there is little or no time for lengthy and detailed evaluations of injury, damage or other losses - such detailed evaluations are usually made long after the emergency phase has passed. Moreover, the quality and timeliness of response to a disaster is a product of the level of preparedness prevailing in a state. Response capacity is also a product of the overall national development-level; it is clear that the capacity and/or the political will to prepare for disasters varies greatly from country to country. One manifestation of this is the extent to which relief flowing into a disaster area - both from inside the country and from abroad - succeeds in addressing the actual needs which exist. All too often, however, some of the relief which arrives at a disaster site is inappropriate, unnecessary, unsolicited or superfluous, while many critical requirements may be left totally unmet
8.2 Donors' responses to disasters are likewise reactive. A disaster occurs; an appeal is received; a monetary or, more usually, an in-kind allocation is made on the basis of resources (or surpluses!) available to the donor. Even less opportunity exists for donors to undertake rapid and independent on-site evaluations of needs. Consequently, aid provided by donors, and especially in-kind aid, is often inappropriate or misdirected. A number of myths regarding needs created at times of emergency and disasters remain deeply ingrained among many governmental and non-governmental agencies. Such myths include:
· that any kind of medical assistant is welcome;
· that any kind of international assistance will be helpful;
· that there is always a risk of epidemics following a disaster,
· that disasters bring out the worst in human behaviour,
· that people always panic in emergencies;
· that the affected population is rendered helpless by disasters;
· that disasters are random killers;
· that disaster victims need to be housed in temporary settlements; and
· that things will get back to normal within a relatively short time.4
4 See Appendix 2 for a table outlining the myths and realities of disasters as recently summarized in the International Review of the Red Cross, No. 284, Sept/Oct. 1991.
8.3 While a few of the above conditions may occasionally be relevant in some disaster situations, for the most part they are distortions of the reality which normally prevail in times of disasters. Yet, these myths continue to guide and direct the policies of many of the agencies which attempt to mobilize responses following a disaster. For example, the widespread belief that any form of medical assistance is desirable resulted in such an over-supply of medical NGOs descending on the coalition-controlled area of Iraqi Kurdistan in the summer of 1991, that they were actively competing with one another to find clients to service (at one point, one village of about 5,000 people had three fully equipped medical NGOs with some 30 professional staff in place, while an Australian mobile military medical team was driving from village to village trying to find one that was not already serviced by an NGO). At the same time, urgent needs such as house reconstruction for some half million people, rehabilitation of village infrastructures and agricultural/irrigation systems, or attending to the needs of the large numbers of destitute women-headed households were hardly being addressed by any donor until several months after the refugees returned; some of these needs have yet to be effectively addressed. Only as the first signs of the impending winter began to manifest themselves was there any significant activity to provide some shelter materials for the returnees and displaced persons.
8.4 The above points are intended to draw attention to the need to break new conceptual grounds regarding policy frameworks for disaster and emergency assistance which go beyond such traditional concepts as 'any form of medical assistance is desirable;, or 'tool and seed distributions will meet the basic requirements for rural rehabilitation'. It is therefore recommended that a concise but comprehensive set of principles and policy guidelines for disaster relief be formulated which can be universally applied to address critical needs created by any hazard. Moreover, such principles and policy guidelines must not be limited to the immediate post-disaster situation but must also integrate longer-term reconstruction (and development) requirements. The latter is particularly important for poorer developing countries where disasters are likely to severely deplete resources and leave little or nothing for longer-term reconstruction.
Moreover, it must also be recognized that international donor interest wanes quickly following the emergency phase of a disaster (or is diverted by new disasters) and hence critical needs for reconstruction tend to be left unattended. The development of such policy guidelines may also help in reinforcing the need for donors and NGOs to re-structure their response mechanisms and see post-disaster relief as more than just a short-term emergency proposition. In too many cases there is a total conceptual separation between 'relief - the short-term emergency response handled by humanitarian agencies - and 'development' - the longer-term assistance mobilized through intergovernmental agreements. Medium-term post-disaster reconstruction invariably falls 'between the cracks'. In sum, donor policies must begin to address relief as but part of a continuum of assistance that progresses to rehabilitation and reconstruction and ultimately to development.
Figure 1 attempts to conceptualize the four phases in disaster response. It suggests that in the relief phase there are normally three groups of affected populations in need of assistance, namely:
· those who are being supported in 'care and maintenance settlements/camps';
· those who receive no direct assistance and attempt to survive on their own at bare minimal levels; and
· those who have the capacity and/or tenacity to immediately commence a process of self-rehabilitation.
Each of these groups require different levels and types of assistance; each faces different hurdles in their attempt to resume a normal existence. Further research into these diverse needs and on the effectiveness of traditional donor response strategies to each of these groups is required. Specifically, research questions to be addressed should include:
· how effective are 'care and maintenance camps' as a means of implementing relief? Are there better alternatives?
· how should donors and NGOs best respond to those spontaneously surviving at bare minimum levels of existence?
· what induces some to begin a process of self-rehabilitation immediately following a disaster? What inputs could be provided to induce a greater proportion of affected populations to self-rehabilitate?
· how to design programs of assistance which minimize the development of dependency among recipients?
· what are the factors and/or preconditions which lead to high levels of dependency on relief assistance developing in some areas but not in others?
· to what extent, and in what way, can relief inputs act as a constraint or disincentive to spontaneous rehabilitation and reconstruction? and
· what are the impacts of non-solicited aid and how can such forms of assistance be better managed/controlled?
8.6 A common concern in many areas where disaster relief is mobilized is whether all the inputs reach the targeted populations. Stories abound of aid being diverted to local merchants, misused for political purposes, or used to re-enforce local power structures. Monitoring of relief during the crisis and emergency phases of disasters is all too often minimal and ineffective and consequently some assistance is invariably re-directed from its targeted population. It is therefore suggested that research into policies of delivering and monitoring relief assistance mechanisms be undertaken, and that such research address especially the inter-relationships between relief delivery mechanisms and the local power structures within which such mechanisms must operate. Specifically, such research needs to consider:
· the relationships between relief and local-level patronage;
· who are the real beneficiaries from the distribution of relief and who loses;
· how local politics/politicians affect or control the access to relief; and
· the extent to which access and control of relief in turn affects policies and practices regarding future mitigation activities.
8.7 The management of relief coordination and dissemination, especially when carried out by UN agencies, is often subject to much criticism from the media, from some NGOs, or from special interests groups. Inefficiency in the manner with which relief is delivered or the tardiness with which a relief operations are mobilized are common criticisms levelled at UN agencies. Comparisons with the perceived efficiency and speediness with which ICRC responds to an emergency are also often made. Some of these concerns may be well-founded; others may reflect processes which are beyond the control of the UN system. Nevertheless, it may prove beneficial to undertake a comparative study of some recent emergencies where the UN system was subject to serious criticism in its relief operations and to objectively determine the extent to which such criticism was warrented on the one hand and where delays or perceived inefficiencies where due to such processes as donor appeal-mechanisms or constraints to relief delivery imposed by host governments on the other hand. Such a set of critical case-studies may serve to identify ways of streamlining the overall system of relief delivery.