Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002
100. Sarah mentioned about the level of preparedness
that needs to be dramatically stepped up. This morning in my constituency
the newspapers are full of photographs of the River Wharfe flooding
because of heavy rainsa month's rain in a day in Yorkshire
for the River Wharfe and the houses were flooded last October.
People are still having building work done from flooding the year
before. One person commented on the TV, "We have been sitting
here and all that happens is that it happens. The Government should
stop it happening". That person was asked whether that meant
the Government should stop the flooding and the rain. We are not
that prepared here, building on the flood plains. What happens
to people who do experience disasters after the disaster: do they
go back to even more vulnerable livelihoods or do they improve
the situation? What support would NGOs and donors give to local
people to empower them to avoid it happening again, or do they
just move away or stand on the roof until the water has gone down
and hope it does not happen again?
(Professor Davis) The first point about it is that
people often recover very slowly and sometimes fail to cope with
a disaster. However, there have not been enough studies made of
the long-term recoverability of societies. For example, one of
the main problems is the indirect consequences of a disaster.
If a disaster wipes out a banana crop, what happens to all those
people who grow bananas until the crop has grown again? It might
take three and a half years for that to happen. Of course, the
banana industry will intercept the market share, so that when
they do recover the banana trees, they will not get back to where
they were before. The port of Kobe in Japan is 15 per cent under
its capacity before the earthquake, although port facilities have
been completely rebuilt, because Yokohama and other ports have
intercepted their market share. That will inevitably have consequences
on the workforce. Thus, the indirect consequences of the disaster
of course are often catastrophic for communities. We liken it
to a ratchet wheel that gets tighter and tighter as a community
is pushed back and back by repetitive disasters. So the consequences
are a very serious issue. You ask what happens to people. For
example, in Bangladesh many of the people in Dhaka in squatter
settlements are there because the past cyclones, floods and droughts.
They have migrated there because that was their coping mechanism
in response to these threats. Although they now contribute to
the disaster problem in Dhaka, that was their loophole There was
a study made some years ago in Dhaka which indicated that up to
24 per cent of the squatters were there as post-disaster victims
who migrated there for that reason. We need to know a lot more
about the questions you are raising concerning the dynamics of
human behaviour. Sometimes the situation is a lot less optimistic
than the reporters suggest.
101. Is it just a question of studying it or
should the donors do something now on working with local people?
Are there any examples of proactive work on this?
(Professor Davis) I personally think it would be a
productive improvement if when an agency has an appeal for funding
for, say, victims of Hurricane Mitch or the Turkish earthquake,
they tell the public that a designated proportion of the money
is going to be spent in the long term to assist in long-term recovery.
Maybe 10 per cent could be earmarked for that purpose. Long-term
rehabilitation and recovery are often starved of resources, whilst
relief is often over-provided.
102. Then we would have to change the rules
here because the adverts or the agencies restrict them to just
raising money for the earthquake at the time; it is short term
and they cannot use the money, if I remember rightly, more longer
(Professor Davis) That is right and that rule was
put in place for a good reason, to try and make sure they spent
their money in a designated time, but it does stop them using
money for longer term inputs.
(Miss La Trobe) I would like to add a small case study
to that. Tearfund's partners in Nicaragua worked with communities
in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch and they helped them to rebuild
houses on new land that was not vulnerable; it was away from the
risk of flood and volcano. But the communities lacked the capital
to begin new economic activities, and so several families just
began to migrate back to their old vulnerable land, because that
was where they could farm. We think there needs to be a much greater
level of support for disaster victims.
103. I actually visited that project in Nicaragua.
(Mr Atkins) I am not sure whether you will come to
this issue later but it is perhaps relevant here anyway. We can
talk about it later if you think that is appropriate. On the question
of what donors can do, obviously Tearfund is a medium-sized, voluntary
organisation supporting local partnerships, and there is a role
for that. I think, from what we have seen and heard in visiting
partners and talking with them, that they would say there is a
need for the international community to acknowledge the importance
of DMPdisaster, mitigation and preparednessmuch
more and to focus much more resources within the overall development
strategy on that. We believe that this should be integrated into
longer-term development programmes, but that does not mean it
is lost. There is a danger that integration actually means disappears.
We do not think, from our discussion with partners, that disaster
mitigation and preparedness has nearly a high enough profile yet
to prevented it being lost if you just regard it as integrated.
It needs to be integrated but to have its own identity within
that. The second thing is the linking of that to national development
programmes, whether they are poverty reduction strategy programmes
or national strategies for sustainable development. Whatever name
they go under, there needs to be a clearly identified component
on disaster mitigation and preparedness. The third thing is that
we have to make sure that one reaches the local level because
in the immediate aftermath of a disaster most lives are saved
or lost in the first 24 to 48 hours. It is the local community
pulling their relatives out from under buildings, pulling them
out of flood waters and so on, long before the international community
arrives. Unless you can get resources into the local communities,
which is a very simple thing, this is not high-cost technology
but simple measures, you may have a beautiful national disaster
reduction plan but the locals may know absolutely nothing about
it. This is what we have discovered in talking to our partners
in Central America most recently. It is a big job for the international
donor community to beef up the amount of money they give to this
within the overall development programme and making sure that
it does reach the local level, and does not just stay in the hands
of national bureaucracies that may have a wonderful plan and good
maps on their wall but actually these are irrelevant to the locals.
104. I particularly want to turn, leading on
from that, to what factors increase vulnerability. You talked
about national plans and so on. I am particularly interested in
how you can address the factors of increased vulnerability and
how, in your disaster mitigation and preparedness plans, you can
look at addressing those factors and the structures and systems
you might need. Can you lead on from that to what examples there
are where this has been successful? If you take Bangladesh or
the floods in the deltas of Bangladesh, what has the impact been
upstream of deforestation over the foothills of the Himalayas
and so on?
(Miss La Trobe) One of the factors that increases
vulnerability is lack of good national government laws and policies
on issues such as deforestation and land. Deforestation, as we
all know, increases vulnerability through increased risk of flooding
and landslides. In Honduras, Hurricane Mitch was made worse because
of the massive amount of deforestation that was happening there
caused by illegal logging and cattle ranching. The government
did have a forestry law in place for 20 years but that was totally
obsolete. It really allowed cattle ranchers to deforest as much
as they liked. This bad government policy contributes to vulnerability
and similarly the lack of a good land policy. This is the case
in Honduras as well. A lot of land is concentrated in the hands
of the rich and the poor do not really have rights to this land.
So they are forced to live in vulnerable areas. Our partners in
Honduras worked with communities in the Guymas Region. Before
Mitch, they had had such a struggle to obtain any land and when
they finally obtained it and started farming there, Mitch wiped
out all they had and then they had to start this whole struggle
to obtain land again. They only obtained it in the end from the
local municipality by blocking the road from Tegucigalpa to San
Pedro Sula to protest at the government's inertia. If they had
not undertaken that protest, they probably would not have obtained
the land. These types of bad policies contribute to vulnerability.
105. That is a very good point. Could I lead
on from that? You say it is rich farmers and they tend to be the
people who kill the rain forest for cattle ranching, if I get
this right, and they probably exploit the wood as well. One of
the things in Central America which I have seen is slash and burn
which appears to be for displaced people who are trying to find
some land. How does that impact on this?
(Miss La Trobe) That is a really serious issue as
well. Our partners in the Mosquitia region of Honduras have been
tyring to teach locals alternative methods to slash and burn because
that is destroying the land. They are learning alternative methods.
That needs to have a bigger impetus and there needs to be a lot
more of this kind of teaching because it is a combination of illegal
logging and then farmers coming in. It is often because farmers
are poor and they do not have any alternative and they have not
been taught other methods.
(Mr Atkins) That last point is very important. Elsewhere
in Latin America there is the same process. You would not have
the degree of slash and burn if the poorer sectors of the rural
community had legal rights to reasonable quality land. If you
have no capital, if you have no land, the only option left open
to you is to go further into the rain forest, the virgin territory,
and cut down more. The soil erodes very quickly because the poor
do not have the money for fertilizers or the training and understanding
of appropriate methods to keep up the fertility, so slash and
burn goes on and on. What usually happens is that the big ranchers
come in behind, buy up the land, or in the case of countries like
Colombia, just shoot them off it, and the poor keep going further
on. The ranchers just come on behind. If you allowed the poor
legal land tenure in the first place on reasonable quality land,
you would not get slash and burn. They do not do it for fun; they
do it because they have no alternative.
(Professor Davis) I have a comment concerning success
stories. One of the areas where we have seen dramatic progress
in the years I have worked in disaster planning, (and I started
in the early Seventies), is in warning systems, and particularly
in flood warning and cyclone warning systems. For example, Hurricane
Michelle, devastated parts of the Caribbean in October of last
year. There was a major threat to Cuba which has a remarkably
good warning system, and they evacuated somewhere in the order
of 600,000 people from Havana and I think there were just 12 deaths.
That achievement merited less than half an inch of press reporting
in the UK, and yet this was a brilliant success. Then you have
got warning systems which DIPECHOa project of the European
Unionhave funded in a number of Caribbean countries: Jamaica,
Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, where local communities
have been taught to manage their entire flood warning system.
They have taught hazard-prone communities how to use laptops and
have supplied them with the equipment and taught them how to measure
the rain gauge data, water flow data, right down to evacuation
planning. This is a complete revolution because previously you
would have one body generating the information, (such as meteorologists
and hydrologists), then passing this warning to intermediaries
such as local authorities, and finally to "recipients",
the local people to evacuate. Now that is all in one group.
It raises other problems such as what happens downstream for the
next group and so on. However, these kinds of warning developments
are most impressive. I give you another example. I am an architect
and my background is very much in strengthening local vernacular
buildings against, say, earthquakes or cyclones and flooding.
In this field there has been great progress made in teaching local
builders how to build more safely. The tragedy is that the civil
engineering profession does not take much interest in non-engineered
construction. That is a battle which is being fought out in many
countries. India, Bangladesh, China, Colombia and Peru have taken
a big lead in this whole area of non-engineered construction.
If we are to see deaths reduced in many of these building failures,
we have got to see more activity in this area. I believe there
are success stories in mitigation and preparedness but they are
under-reported because that does not make news. Part of the problem
is that the public do not know about achievements in risk reduction
and the story is one of "gloom and doom". Perhaps the
agencies might be able to help here. The World Disasters Report
has done a magnificent job in trying to alert people to the need
for improved focus on preparedness and mitigation.
(Mr Walter) I would like to add that it is important
to make the point that continuing development as usual will not,
in its own right, reduce vulnerability. There are numerous cases
where development actually increases vulnerability. There are
well documented examples: the Krishna Delta, for example, in India
where mangrove swamps which used to act as a break to the storm
surges created by cyclones have been cleared for prawn farming
and then the prawns, which are a mono-crop, have been destroyed
by subsequent cyclones and land reform associated with that has
thrown many small-holders into destitution. It is important that
both development and humanitarian initiatives look through, as
it were, a lens of risk reduction. Picking up on your point, there
is a danger of DMP getting lost. It is not a separate sector;
it is something which everyone has to take seriously. Poverty
alleviation as usual, business as usual, will not necessarily
106. May I say that I think all the illustrations,
development of poverty and environmental problems, are interlinked.
Could I ask about one specific case, which some of us saw a couple
of years ago which is the flooding in Mozambique. That was enormous
and came right down from Zimbabwe and elsewhere. Can you point
to what governmental mistakes have been made that increased the
vulnerability of Mozambique to flooding; it was not just the Mozambique
government but perhaps other governments. Have you studied that
(Mr Walter) Mozambique is a bit of a success story,
certainly in 2000, compared to many other floods. I have data
which shows that 45,000 people were actually saved in the rescue
phase; two-thirds of them were saved with Mozambican resourcesthe
army, the Red Cross, fire service and private boats. Only 4 per
cent of the lives saved in both the 2000 and 2001 floods were
saved by international agencies. That is a very powerful demonstration
of the need to build national level and local level disaster preparedness
capacity. The success of the 2000 response was largely because
the government took a lead. They appointed their Foreign Minister
to co-ordinate the disaster relief. All the agencies, the UN and
9 separate military air forces, were co-ordinated under the Foreign
Minister. That demonstrates that when you have the political will
to take a lead, then something will happen. If disaster preparedness
and mitigation remain at the level of the environment ministry
or some other civil defence ministry, it will not come together.
Co-ordination is key. That was led by the government in 2000 in
Mozambique. In 2001 it was not quite so good because the floods
were further up-country, further away from the capital, which
was where a lot of the national expertise was focussed.
(Professor Davis) You are asking what governments
can do. I think that one thing governments need to doand
maybe DFID could help with thisis to encourage good protocols
between countries over flood management. For example, one of the
causes of the two floods in Mozambique was the release of water
from Zambia and so on upstream. Whilst the WMO have good protocols
for exchanging information on hurricanes, which is an excellent
system, that rarely exists in river systems. An agreement of this
nature is needed between Nepal, India and Bangladesh. Of course,
there is always the argument that upstream countries dump their
surplus water into our country to protect their dams. That may
be true. The requirement is to form agreements concerning the
exchange of information on water flows and an understanding of
how to manage the overall river catchment, which might cross three
or four countries. Possibly the UN, pushed by the British Government,
can try and get better understandings to prevent repetitions of
what happened in Mozambique.
107. You mentioned the percentage of people
who have been saved or helped by local initiatives. The perception
in this country is that it was all done by helicopters. Do you
know the percentage of people who were saved by helicopter?
(Mr Walter) I could get back to you on that.
108. There is a serous point to it about how
disasters get distorted by the media coverage.
(Mr Walter) I think there was a distortion
in the 2000 floods because the world's media were already in Mozambique
because there were four floods; the third one was the big one
and the media were already there. These images of helicopters
with white South Africans saving black Mozambicans were very powerful
and they were the ones that made good news but actually boat owners
saved as many, if not more. The helicopters were important subsequently
in ferrying food around between all the refugee and displacement
centres, but in the lifesaving phase it was local, national and
regional resources which made the difference. I have the data
here, which I can give you.
Ann Clwyd: May I say that three of us
from this Committee were there at the time. There was a shortage
of helicopters and in fact they were scrambling them from South
Africa. It if had not been for the South Africans, in fact I think
a lot more lives would have been lost. So we were able to see
at first hand what went on at that time. As for the kind of co-ordination
that you are talking about, I do not think it was quite like that
in the early stages. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
109. You have given the Committee members some
graphic illustrations of development activities actually undermining
or causing extra vulnerability. Professor Davis has mentioned
the need for a dialogue. Is there any dialogue at all going on
between centres of excellence and governments actually to educate
decision-makers about the problems that can arise from certain
types of development which can adversely affect calls for mobility?
Is that dialogue taking place at any level at all?
(Professor Davis) I think this is an interesting issue.
I have been on the board of various NGOs, and there is often quite
a lot of tension between the development group in an NGO and the
disaster community within the same NGO. Sometimes it is to do
with the perception that the disaster group are getting more resources;
it is at that level. I think the development people within NGOs
and also within government are often overwhelmed by their agenda.
I was once given an assignment by DFID to go to the various geographical
desks of DFID and highlight two issues: one, how to make sure
development projects did not increase vulnerability; and, secondly,
to make sure that their development projects did not end up in
the Bay of Bengal, so that they did not have new roads and bridges
being wiped out and so on. To put it mildly, we got a very frosty
reception indeed from the development staff because they said,
"Look, we are up to here with agenda items. We have
to go through every project checking it against a massive agenda
such as gender, sustainable environmental factors and so on and
so forth, and you are giving us another?". Our response was
that we were trying to heighten their awareness of these issues
and to see how mitigation could be built into all their planning.
I could see their problem: they felt they had such a huge number
of factors to consider in all their development planning that
it was difficult to add yet another one to the whole process.
Is the dialogue continuing? I believe it is because I think that
the development community working in government, in the UN and
within the NGOs, is becoming increasingly sensitive to the threat
that is posed by disasters to all of their work. The very fact
that this Committee is considering this issue today is a good
example of that. I think it is getting to be rather a healthy
dialogue, but there needs to be more of it. The debate needs to
be stronger and I think the issues are being gradually recognised
by the development community. In a sense, the people advocating
preparedness and mitigation are coming from a development standpoint.
Undoubtedly the concerns are growing and that is partly due to
the lead taken by some of the big NGOs, particularly the Red Cross.
110. This follows on in terms of this linkage
between development and disaster preparedness and mitigation.
One of the areas on which the UK Government is having a round
table and on which it is preparing a report for the World Summit
on Sustainable Development this September is fresh water and sewage,
but you have clearly pointed out that the other area directly
related to this is watershed management and the dumping of excess
water and likely flooding downstream in the coastal areas, et
cetera. Could I ask if anyone on the panel, and obviously particularly
Professor Ian Davis, believes that the way in which the work is
being done on this report is in fact taking account of what we
are discussing here this morning or do you think this has been
left out of discussion on fresh water and sewage?
(Professor Davis) I am not familiar with that activity,
I am afraid. I hope it is being taken into account because obviously
it is such a key factor. My colleagues in the Flood Research Centre
in Middlesex University will always say that you need to consider
holistic aspects of a river catchment: pollution control, water
supply, flood and land drainage etc. That is one problem and it
requires an integrated approach. In Britain I think we are beginning
to see that but in many countries it is fragmented in a host of
different organisations. To try and get that equation together
probably requires the meeting of many disciplines and a great
deal of understanding of other people's fields. Of course that
must happen, but often it does not happen adequately. I would
hope that we could get some input into that. I would be delighted
to contribute in any way.
(Mr Atkins) There are a number of initiatives, as
I know you know, going on around the World Summit with the Government
having set up five different initiatives, the water initiative
being one of those. Our perception to dateand one of my
staff is on the steering committee for wateris that fresh
water has been the primary focus and particularly the role that
the private sector could play in helping deliver and manage water
supplies in developing countries. It is necessary to look at that,
but that clearly is not enough. We have recently been working
with DFID to try to get the whole issue of disaster mitigation
and preparedness, particularly the water aspects of that, if you
like, on to the agenda, not necessarily within that committee,
that working group, but elsewhere. I think it is worth referring
to the good things DFID has done. In the Environmental TSB there
is mention of the need to do more work on the impact of environmental
disasters, on development and so on. What we are less clear about
is what has actually happened. There are good words in here. I
am not saying that nothing has happened; we are just not clear.
It may be something for you to look into more. We think the groundwork
is there, the basis is there for doing more, but we are not clear
about where it happening.
111. If the advantages of an environmental project
are perceived to be far greater than the disadvantages of dealing
with the disasterand there has been criticism of some of
those projects being funded by the World Bank or the IMFand
those advantages bring many benefits to the community which is
affected by the disaster, how would you balance your views on
(Professor Davis) I think that the answer goes back
to risk assessment. I read about the linking of the poverty reduction
agenda and the disaster reduction agenda and that goes back to
the need for communities that are at risk to conduct really sensible
risk assessment processes. Often risk assessment is confined to
hazard mapping, dealing with the flood - severity, frequency,
durationand not enough on vulnerabilitysocial vulnerability,
building infrastructure vulnerability, economic vulnerability,
and environmental vulnerability. I have just been working with
the ISDR - the International Strategy for Disaster Relief - which
is a UN organisation. We are doing a global survey on mitigation.
I have just waded through 70 country reports. Very few of the
countries seem to have effective risk assessment in place. That
is probably due to political reasons, that people are happier
to look at the neutral technical factors causing flooding or high
winds and not become too involved in why people are at
risk and who put them in a vulnerable location. So there
appears to be a disinclination on the part of many governments
to push for total risk assessment. But if risk assessment is done,
the key element in it would be of overall capacities, thus to
survey not just the negatives but all the positives. This dual
emphasis has been a very important development in risk assessment
by looking at vulnerability and capacity analysis in parallel,
so that you not only see the weaknesses of a given society but
you see their strengths. These might be local leadership or the
memory of older people within a community or the presence of assisting
groups such as Tearfund. The need is to devise programmes which
start from asking what the capacity of the community is, not from
some abstract notion. There is a need for better community-based
risk assessment and risk assessment at various levels, so that
we really diagnose the problem better. Too often programmes for
mitigation and preparedness are devised without adequately diagnosing
the problem. It is like conducting a surgical operation without
an X-ray, which is very dangerous, and yet that is happening in
country after country.
112. When I think of the impact of climate change,
one country comes to my mind, and you have already mentioned Bangladesh
with its floods, cyclones and droughts. That has had a disastrous
effect on the life of the people. I wonder whether the Government
of Bangladesh has a proper policy and proper management to deal
with such a disaster. The question is: what specific management
and policy weaknesses in developing countries in particular have
the greatest impact on vulnerability to climate change, particularly
responses to extreme weather events?
(Professor Davis) My colleagues will have much more
to say on that than I have. I was interested in the earlier evidence
to this Committee by Dr Huq who referred to the fact that there
was a dramatic reduction in cyclone deaths in a more recent cyclone
than the 1991 event. Of course, that is partly due to the Bangladesh
Government taking disaster mitigation very seriously: good warning
systems, better cyclone shelters, mounds where animals are taken
during a cyclone and much better management of natural resources
within the country. Bangladesh is in many ways a great success
story of disaster mitigation. Another place is the Philippines
and Colombia, these countries are front-runners. I think Bangladesh
has built up a form of "safety-culture", and that is
a great tribute to the people there, and particularly to the NGOs.
Obviously there are problems: the residual problems, lack of strong,
local institutions, lack of political continuity between elections,
lack of ethical standards to avoid corruption, for example, in
the enforcement of building codes and so on. Such problem are
pervasiveand many derive from poverty. I think we should
pay tribute to the work of certain countries where great progress
has been made. Every time I return to Bangladesh, I am aware of
dramatic progress from the time before. Although they have a huge
problem, the success in managing disasters with a population of
that size in a country not much bigger than Wales is extraordinary.
113. What sort of co-operation has the Bangladesh
Government had with the Government of India? In particular, you
mention that there was a dispute about diverting river water and
that dispute has been going on for quite a while. It has a more
damaging impact on Bangladesh than on India.
(Professor Davis) I believe that tension continues.
In my view, it is high time that the Government of India and the
Government of Bangladesh had a much higher level of collaboration.
Failures in disaster collaboration simply reflect political tensions.
(Miss La Trobe) There are a lot of countries where
DMP just is not a priority. If they have a disaster management
law in place, DMP will not necessary be a part of that and that
is something that we have seen in Central America. There was a
lack of general knowledge, awareness and planning within the communities
and within government for DMP because they just did not see it
as a priority. If governments were engaging with disasters, it
would seem to be more focussing on the technology. They are quite
interested in cyclone warning systems and that sort of thing but
they just were not engaging in the grass roots community DMP.
So we believe that DMP needs to become a much bigger national,
public value incorporated into government level disaster management
and development initiatives, as well as into communities.
(Mr Atkins) May I add something to what you have heard
from others, which perhaps needs to be spelt out and that is actually
how cheap many of the things that need to be done are. We are
talking at the local level about risk management; it costs but
it is not necessarily very expensive. We are talking about marking
routes to higher ground and just agreeing who will be in charge
of X if Y happens. These are very low cost measures at the local
level compared with the billions that are pumped into developing
countries for other purposes. That is the first thing to be said.
We are really not talking rocket science; we are talking about
a shift in mind set to do many things that can be very quickly
and easily done, if there is a mind to do it. The second point
that Professor Davis raised was about political continuity. We
have found this over and over again in talking to our partners
in other countries, that a particular government will have a push
on a particular issuedisaster mitigation and preparednessand
it makes it their project, but the moment they are out of office,
the next government deliberately does something different to show
that it is different. That points all the more to the need to
have local resources because it is the local community organisations
that do not change every time there is an election or a change
in political flavour, whether it be the churches, the mosques,
or the local NGOs. They are there and they do not go away just
because there is a political change. That is not to say we do
not need national strategies because we do, but it is very important
to understand the implications of lack of political continuity
and therefore the need to make sure that resources are in a place
where they will not suddenly disappear when the mayor is voted
out or whatever.
(Mr Walter) Can I add an example of what good value
DMP initiatives can be, taken from last year's World Disasters
Report? During the super cyclone in Orissa there were 23 cyclone
shelters which the Orissa Government claims saved about 40,000
lives. The budget for these was paid by the German Red Cross.
From 1994 to 2002 the budget was DM 6.8 million, which works out,
and it is a crude calculation, at approximately US$77 per life
saved. After the disaster, the Orissa state government promised
the next of kin of every dead relative US$1600 in compensation.
114. I was surprised to hear your condemnation
of the democratic process. Have you any examples where dictators
or single party states are much better at disaster preparedness
(Mr Atkins) It is not a condemnation of the democratic
process; it is a recognition that many of the countries we work
in do not have a professional civil service. There is a very big
115. You would still say that if you get a change
of government because the elections bring in different priorities,
you have to start again?
(Mr Atkins) It can even happen here.
116. I am pleased that it happened here in 1997!
Some of my colleagues may differ. Do you have any examples that
by actually having, as you say, a continuity of political control,
you would get better disaster preparedness?
(Mr Atkins) I think if a plan is a good plan, it is
good that it can be continued. Certainly it does not have to stop
just because the government changes. Certainly, even in discussions
in Nicaragua where there was considerable criticism of government
plans, there was still an attempt to carry on the good work from
one government to another. I am not saying nobody is trying, but
it does make it very difficult, particularly when you do not have
professional civil servants, and so many of the local political
actors and the state functionaries change every time the president
changes. That is more the problem.
117. That happens in the United States?
(Mr Atkins) Yes, it does.
118. I am sorry to press you but could you have
examples where in fact by not having a change, there has been
a more solid preparedness in place?
(Mr Atkins) I am struggling to think of one, if I
am honest. They must exist.
119. You have both made the same point.
(Mr Atkins) I am not a world expert on this. We could
probably find you cases. What is clear is that if it is at local
level, historic memory, the memory of people who have lived through
past floods, rather than a mayor who has just been brought in
to serve for four years and goes again, you are much more likely
to get that continuity, for very obvious reasons. It is not a
political statement but just a fact of life.
(Mr Walter) The example of Cuba's preparedness for
Hurricane Michelle in November last year raised shows that the
continuity of political leadership has led to a relationship of
trust between the government and communities which is essential
for early warning and disaster preparedness to work. The key word
is "trust" there.
(Professor Davis) When we train national leaders in
disaster planning, and we do that continually, one of the aspects
we often highlight in setting up national disaster plans is the
need for them to build political consensus. We propose that they
devote time to consult with the opposition when working in democratic
systems to see if they cannot fully agree on disaster planning,
so that this does not become a political football. For example,
in America, there is a very interesting disaster mitigation initiative
which was started under the Clinton administration called "Project
Impact", which was the concept of safe communities. There
were to be two per state in all of the American states, (which
included places like Puerto Rico). These safe communities were
conceived to be a bringing together of private sector, NGOs and
government, to say, "We will collectively make your whole
town safe so that business and people will want to come and live
here, because they are not going to be washed away in future flooding".
This project went ahead during the Clinton administration and
under the Bush administration it was changed because the new administration
wanted different policies for FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management
Agency). An important change happened in so far as it became more
state controlled, so there was a policy of giving more authority
and the project changed its name. In a sense, it looks as if the
same policy is going to continue but it is going to be called
something different. This has been quite an important correction.
Some of the centralisation present in the original project has
now been given over to more indigenous control. One of the key
policies that we have been advocating is far higher levels of
devolution to local communities. Disaster planning has to work
very well for the community level but also at the centre. It is
a top-down and bottom-up process in a synchronised, integrated
system. I just feel that perhaps the political problems should
not arise if there is better advocacy and better preparation done
by the people advocating change.
5 During floods in Mozambique in 2000-01, 53,000 people
were rescued from drowning. Of these, 63 per cent were saved by
boat and 37 per cent by aircraft. Furthermore, national assets
(Mozambican military, Red Cross and boat owners) rescued 65 per
cent of those saved. Back