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close this bookDisasters and Development (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - United Nations Development Programme , 1994, 55 p.)
close this folderPART 2 - Understanding and exploiting disaster/development linkages
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe impact of disasters on development programs
View the documentLoss of resources
View the documentShifting resources
View the documentImpact on investment climate
View the documentImpact on the non-formal sector
View the documentCASE STUDY
View the documentDevelopment programs can increase vulnerability
View the documentCASE STUDY
View the documentDevelopment programs can decrease vulnerability
View the documentCASE STUDY
View the documentDisasters as opportunities for development initiatives
View the documentCASE STUDY
View the documentSUMMARY

Disasters as opportunities for development initiatives

Disasters can be a vehicle for major development programs. The political impact of damage and disruption can be a real catalyst for change. Disaster inspired development initiatives are influenced in a number of ways, but two aspects are especially important. First, disasters can highlight particular areas of vulnerability, for example where serious loss of life has occurred, or where the economic damage is disproportionate to the strength of the impact. The outcome of this is usually to highlight the general level of underdevelopment. Second, for a few weeks or months, the political environment may favor a much higher rate of economic and social change than before, in areas such as land reform, new job training, housing improvements, and restructuring of the economic base (note however that this may involve a transfer of resources from other areas and sectors).

The value of direct international assistance given after disasters may partially compensate for economic losses, although the amounts are usually rather small in relation to the total loss. Early injections of aid rarely constitute more than ten percent of the overall losses, and are usually considerably less than that. In the following months and years, there may be additional longer term development aid, which would otherwise not have been made available.

Disasters can elevate development potential

The political impact of damage and disruption can be a real catalyst for change.

There may also be longer-term benefits from a drastic restructuring of the economy as a result of a disaster. For example, small island economies which were previously dependent on a single crop may expand their economic base, often with international assistance.

The extent to which development opportunities can be followed up after a disaster will usually be constrained or otherwise influenced by donor investment policy for emergency loans. It is illustrative to review the current World Bank criteria for emergency lending for post-disaster investment. According to the Bank:

the operation must be directed as restoring assets or productivity in a long-term development perspective - not relief

the prospective economic returns should be high

the effects of the emergency should be significant

the event triggering the emergency should have a low probability of happening again soon

the need for an urgent response should be evident

emergency lending is limited to cases where effective action can be felt in two to three years

there should be some prospect for future reduction in the hazard

World Bank

Development opportunities are often missed or compromised because of an excessive focus on relief assistance.

Development opportunities are often missed or compromised because of an excessive focus on relief assistance. Relief assistance may introduce substantial flows of resources into small communities: resources which could be purchased locally. The method of injection of these resources - often involving free distribution through inappropriately chosen local structures - may discourage independence and entrepreneurism. The scale and variety of external relief sources in some disasters make this a difficult problem to contain and highlights the need for governments and international agencies to continually emphasize the development framework of the disaster response.

Q. How do disasters affect the willingness of societies to introduce mitigation measures?


Interventions are particularly effective where they focus on areas of particularly high risk.

Designing recovery programs to reduce vulnerability

It is vital to ensure that rehabilitation and reconstruction do not leave the society as vulnerable, or even more vulnerable than before. This may happen for a variety of reasons, but two causes which need particular emphasis are lack of awareness of detailed risk factors among decision-makers and planners at both national and community levels and the related tendency for development options to be foreclosed when decisions are made quickly with incomplete information. There is a great need to support and guide governments in developing strategic recovery programs which mesh with national development goals and which lead to substantial reductions in vulnerability.

There are many ways of shaping and influencing the process of reconstruction. Structural mitigation will be enhanced by improvement in and wider application of building codes and by restructuring land-use patterns. These administrative measures can be reinforced and complemented by changes in pricing policies and subsidy structures to encourage specific mitigation measures by the public.

Interventions are especially effective where they focus on areas of particularly high risk, for example, low-income housing design and construction in earthquake-prone areas. The non-formal sector offers special opportunities for intervention, such as support for craftsmen including training and loan funds for small construction businesses and other micro-enterprises.

The importance of basing measures to reduce physical vulnerability on detailed scientific evidence cannot be over-emphasized. A number of studies have shown how casualties and deaths in earthquakes and wind-storms are often associated with very specific risk factors, particularly the types of material used in construction and specific design features which affect the vulnerability of the structures and their occupants.


Other opportunities exist for reducing the vulnerability of infrastructure. These include specific technical improvements in the critical parts of “life-line” systems e.g. preventing flood - or debris - damage to switchgear or communications equipment.

Other areas for enhanced protection can include government offices, banking facilities, food warehouses, road transport facilities and schools. Upgrading of transport infrastructure will usually facilitate evacuation and pre-positioning of emergency supplies, relief deliveries, and the subsequent restoration of markets and services in the affected area.

Similar general benefits will also result from improvements to government telecommunications. The ability to share information quickly can improve both the management of emergency response, and the coordination of longer term recovery.

There are many ways to facilitate reconstruction that also enhance mitigation. One way is to gather detailed technical information on the specific factors influencing vulnerability as quickly as possible. The technical assistance component must be incorporated before planning decisions are finalized.

Support for the private sector, including the non-formal sector is a key element of successful reconstruction management. This requires, particularly, reinforcing the role of the financial sector. Finance for reconstruction will come from government sources, local and international reconstruction loans, grant assistance from international sources, and capital generated from within the community. There will usually be opportunities for helping to strengthen existing banking structures, housing associations, and cooperative credit societies by providing technical advice and information system development.

Support for the private sector, including the non-formal sector is a key element of successful reconstruction management.

Similar support for financial management during the recovery period will usually be needed within the government system. This may include advice on financial planning procedures, reporting, monitoring systems, auditing, and evaluation.

The reconstruction period is an opportunity for general assistance to government with administrative procedures, including enhanced management training programs. Areas of special importance include:

coordination of lending programs, grants and subsidies;

support at the higher levels for policy framework development;

support for improvement of centrally driven accountability systems;

reviews and enhancements of financial approval procedures;

assistance with donor liaison and reimbursement claims.

Support for training in the private sector can be a crucial tool for enhancing effective change during the reconstruction period. Strategic support for vocational training is usually of special value. Such training should focus on bottlenecks caused by shortages of skilled manpower, most commonly in the construction sector.