Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 149)



  140. Is the private sector involved in that?
  (Professor Davis) Not enough is the short answer. Occasionally we have had private sector people apply to take the course but, no, they are outside the loop.

  141. Where would they go to get their training?
  (Professor Davis) I do not know where they are trained but they certainly do not get it from Cranfield and that is clearly a significant gap. We have often had people query why are we not sitting down next to insurers or next to people from construction companies or investment companies and I think that is a weakness. DFID and the FCO are funding government officials, occasionally NGO people, to come to these courses but they are certainly not providing the funding for the private sector, probably because the private sector would not regard our course as being particularly useful for them, if they are aware of it.

  142. Plainly if you do believe there is another course that we should be aware of we could ask them to come in and that would be very helpful to us. If it is possible, perhaps an invitation could be extended to one or more of this Committee to be able to have a sample, if you like, in summer school?
  (Professor Davis) We would be delighted to welcome you to our next course.

  143. In order of priority can I ask what other measures should be put in place alongside early warning systems to help prevent loss of life from natural disasters? You have got a very interesting risk reduction chain in your evidence and over on the left-hand side you have got development of national disaster management systems and then a whole series of other things to do.
  (Professor Davis) Yes.

  144. Would you like to put that in order as to what you think the next moves are? If the other members of the panel have not had a copy of this—Have they?
  (Professor Davis) No, they have not.

  145. Perhaps the clerk could just pass it on to them because there is a menu of options there which have been proposed. Could I ask you first, Professor Davis, what do you think is the order of priority for the other measures that you put forward in your document? It is on page two.
  (Professor Davis) I use the metaphor of a chain because disaster mitigation measures need to be very carefully integrated and the chain idea brings the idea of the "weakest link". Some of those parts of the chain are weak links at present. Insurance is particularly weak and yet it is potentially a very strong link. I also wanted to emphasise the relationship of measures. If, for example, you take Gujarat at the present time, they are building earthquake resistant houses and those houses are incorporating a new building code which has been implemented. It requires training on the part of craftsman and builders to apply that new building code but it also requires public awareness on the part of the occupants of the houses to understand what those measures are. For example, they are strengthening buildings by putting in cross walls, or sheer walls. Those walls are very vital for the strength of the house. If the people who live in the house are not told the structural function of the wall they will demolish it because they have a bigger family or some other reason. Here there is a clear link between a land use planning control, a building bylaw, a training programme and public awareness and yet it is rare to find anyone seeing that connection. Perhaps one of the points I was making with this chain was who is going to co-ordinate mitigation because, whilst relief is well co-ordinated normally in disasters with national disaster co-ordinators, I have never come across anybody co-ordinating mitigation. Maybe there is a good reason for that, because it is so broad and so big that it would be a burden for anybody to do it. However, governments could set up some kind of task force to try to get linkages where linkages are needed in the system. That is another of my proposals to DFID, that they might initiate some kind of study to see how mitigation is managed in country and how it can be better managed so that these kinds of crucial linkages are made. At the moment I have never seen those linkages made. When I highlight the issue to government officials they are often perplexed as to how to achieve such links. In the order of importance, if a country is very poor they might do the cheapest things first. Public awareness is a relatively cheap element. You can get disaster training into schools relatively cheaply through the existing curriculum. Iran teaches earthquake preparedness in every single school in the country and that has not required a vast amount of money, it has required the Ministry of Education working with the earthquake specialists to synchronise it. Since every child in Iran is taught this subject, with over half the population being under 16 there is a fair chance of that getting key messages to the whole community. I think a lot of these public awareness issues could be easy. Mr Atkins' comment was very interesting and some of these measures are relatively cheap. In Australia they will paint flood levels on lamp posts. It only takes a geography teacher and a pot of paint and some good accurate information to be able to mark the 1979 or the 1885 flood level and he takes out his class of geography kids to explain the significance and there is a useful vertical risk map in the community. You could start with the cheap things and move up to the more expensive elements later. The most expensive things will be the structural measures, such as flood protection measures, and the strengthening of the houses. I am a great believer in addressing the softer issues before reaching the harder ones because too often countries have said they cannot afford mitigation and the message is "you can afford it" because the basic elements of risk reduction are generally affordable.
  (Miss La Trobe) I just want to say that Tearfund very much think community training in DMP is important and communities can prepare their own response to a disaster if they know how to do that. We have produced some literature. This one is on improving food security but we are producing one at the moment on disaster mitigation and preparedness as a whole. It is very, very simple but it teaches communities the types of measures they need to have in place and how to respond in a disaster because often there may be early warning but if communities do not know what to do when that early warning comes that is when you get trouble. This is very simple but it is actually very effective.
  (Mr Atkins) On the principle of doing what you can do before trying what you cannot, I think there are a number of international policy processes which could be made much more effective for disaster mitigation and preparedness. I am thinking of the PRSP process, which obviously you are aware of, and I am thinking of the World Summit coming up. These are opportunities, pegs if you want, to raise not just local awareness but national government awareness, international awareness, and I think it would be a shame if we missed those opportunities. If the Committee thinks it is worthwhile I would like to appeal that there be a stronger emphasis perhaps of the British Government as we approach the World Summit on the issue of disaster mitigation and preparedness and also a greater influence brought to bear on national PRSPs. This is a tricky one. We have all said we are against conditionality, yet we also have our partners in places like Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, saying "we went along to the PRSP process consultation, we put forward our proposals on mitigation and none of it appeared in the plan". There is a job to be done, if you like, in encouraging national governments to really listen to what some of their own people and the civil society are saying about mitigation and to take that seriously. I think we can support that process through saying those things, where appropriate, around PRSPs. The last thing I would say, and it applies to the earlier question of is it climate change or other things causing the problems we are seeing, to a degree it does not matter too much because what needs to be done is the same thing whatever the cause. Whether it is climate change or not, do not cut your forests down. Whether it is climate change or not, you need better management of your water. In a sense, we are saying we just need more of the same but we need it much faster and much bigger because climate change is going to make it all much worse, in crude terms. It is not big, new ideas, it is stuff people have been saying for a long time and it just now needs to happen.
  (Ms Helmer) One of the things that I find so fascinating in dealing with climate change from a development and humanitarian perspective is the chain of different actors and expertise dealing with it and the different cultures behind it and that is what complicates matters so much. I have seen a similar chain dealing with the weather forecast—information of satellites, of changes in weather patterns and how to bring this information down to community level and where the weakest link in the chain is. A met service official would look at that chain totally different from a community based development officer and they still do not know how to communicate with each other because the met service would say "we need more data" meaning to say he will look for the solution in his own sphere of capacities. That is one of the key problems we are dealing with linking climate change with humanitarian development issues, that in our complicated society we are not used to looking over the bridge and looking at the capacities of others, we still tend to find solutions in what we are good at, whether you are a met service man, a disaster study specialist or a community development person. That is one of the problems we have to deal with. Sometimes it is cheaper to hide behind your models of what climate change might do to a region than go out on the ground and see what priorities communities have. If we strive to make that link, that is where we can make the progress.

Mr Walter

  146. I would like to come back to the relationship between local and external relief efforts. We have touched on this several times and we have had the very good example of Mozambique and the effectiveness of the local effort rather than the external effort saving people. I think there is some evidence that the external relief assistance often creates parallel structures to the local initiatives, particularly in the provision of health care, of field hospitals, supply of pharmaceuticals and so on, with the result that the local community structures are probably left weaker and perhaps more vulnerable afterwards. Would you like to give your thoughts on how donors can ensure that their relief efforts do not undermine the local disaster preparation and mitigation efforts? Have you got any examples of donors actually strengthening local organisations and structures and then working through them when disasters strike?
  (Ms Helmer) Talking from our own experience, we have capacities at local level with our volunteer organisations there. It is crucial that the local organisations are involved in the programmes. I do not know how to say more on that. This is how we always go through national societies and call in expertise from our worldwide network at their request. Maybe Jonathan can say more about that.
  (Mr Walter) To answer your first point about how international donors could avoid undermining local capacities, I think there is a tendency which continues, which has been highlighted in the DEC evaluation of the British agencies' response to the Gujarat earthquake, that external supplies, external consultants and experts continue to be flown into disaster zones and in many cases in India, for example, local materials, local contractors, local business should be and can be supported more with money from international sources and that would strengthen the indigenous capacity to respond next time. If you keep flying in experts, consultants and materials you are wasting money and you are undermining the local markets. I think one sort of concrete tangible aim which the Committee might consider looking at is to set local procurement targets so that you might have an aim to buy ten per cent or 20 per cent of the materials and labour required for any particular disaster response at the local level so that not only are people's livelihoods enhanced immediately during the recovery phase but also so that their capacity is left slightly stronger for the next disaster.
  (Mr Atkins) I think we can see a trend happening within the relief agencies, and bear in mind Tearfund does both long-term development and short-term emergency relief. The trend over the last few years has been, where possible, to work with local partners in doing the relief work as well as the long-term development. I think that is beginning to happen elsewhere as well so the first response is not "Can we fly in a team?" but rather "Who do we already know on the ground who we could help to respond to this?" In recent cases, we did not send a team to Honduras in Hurricane Mitch, we worked entirely through local partners. In the recent earthquake in El Salvador, a couple of years later, exactly the same. In Gujarat we sent out a team to advise local partners, but pulled them out when they were no longer needed. We see that trend happening. What we need to be aware of though, is that in some circumstances, and maybe they are becoming increasingly rare, because of the nature of a catastrophe or a conflict, say if it is an ethnic conflict, all of the people you might otherwise have worked through have actually had to leave or been destroyed or whatever. In those cases you face a very stark choice: do you go in with your own people or do you stay out and not contribute? It is a genuine dilemma. I think the long-term aim has to be if you must go in and if there is nobody you can work through locally at least to build up the capacity of people while you are there so that when your ex-pat or whatever team withdraws, there is local capacity in place for the future. Those are difficult operational decisions sometimes.
  (Professor Davis) Just to comment on this issue. I remember a minister in India who was responsible for disaster planning once said to me "What skills do you have in the UK and what materials do you have in the UK to help in disasters which we have not got in our country?" and I said "I do not think any". So he said "Why do you people keep on coming and why do you keep on sending stuff? When we ask for money you send stuff". I said "Perhaps it is due to the dynamics of our agencies which may be able to locate materials faster through their UK stockpiles than they might for local purchase". He said "I think we have got to put a stop to this because we could be stimulating local commerce by local purchase. Cash really is highly effective". He also spoke about the growing strength of Indian consultants who can do excellent work. I feel that in coming years there will be a revolution in this area with fewer flights going off from Stansted at night laden up with disaster assistance if local stockists can be built into the equation. One of the useful things which could happen is in these highly disaster prone areas is there could be a study of local resources available there and the agencies will not, therefore, need to spend a huge amount of money, and DFID also, in funding these very expensive flights to send materials. On the subject of personnel, I remember spending two weeks with an unnamed agency in a training course on disaster planning and this agency sends its teams in even if there is no local counterpart, and they have done that as a matter of policy for many years. There was hardly any mention of government in the entire two week workshop. I recall in my summing up I said "There has been a missing discussion here and that is your relationship with the host government" and the agency's staff responded "Well, that is because we have no contact with them. We arrive, we set up shop, we distribute aid and we go". So immediately all the resource team said "And what then will happen following all your efforts?—where are the stakeholders to maintain this?" There was very little concern on their part on this issue. In India, China, the Philippines, Latin America, and South Asia, such strong capacity has developed that there is now a very different pattern than in so many African countries. Gradually there is going to be a declining role for British expertise and a declining role for British products. Perhaps the British expertise will be more involved in training and capacity building to strengthen local capacities. It is here that the shift will occur. Your question is a very good one because there are these paradigm shifts which are going to have to happen. They should have happened a long time ago. They have also got to happen in the policies of DFID in terms of responding to these events and how to strengthen local capacity when they really have a tremendous opportunity to do it, but of course there will have to be pre-planning for that to happen.

  147. Is it not a dilemma sometimes, particularly for food aid going in? Yes, of course you do not want to undermine local agriculture but on the other hand there are thousands of starving people. How do you resolve that?
  (Professor Davis) By very effective needs assessments. The assessments of needs will have to happen before anything is sent and Clare Short has been quite right to emphasise "we are not sending anything until there has been an accurate local assessment undertaken". The assessment is crucial. It has got to be accurate and it has got to be endorsed and ratified. Of course, a group like DFID are getting assessments coming in from all directions and they can quickly work out the overall picture. If the assessments are accurate there is less opportunity for that kind of problem to occur. The assessment would also take into account local capacities and what damage dumping a lot of food aid might do to local stockists, local suppliers, retail outlets and so on.

Mr Battle

  148. Can I follow that through with one particular question. Are there any plans for disaster mitigation and preparedness to be included in the National Action Plans for Adaptation?
  (Professor Davis) Could you clarify National Action Plans? Are you talking about adaptation to climate change?

  Mr Battle: Yes.
  (Professor Davis) In reading the material for this Committee and studying the evidence so far I suspect that there is a need to synchronise that whole process. I would like to know a lot more about how those adaptive plans can synchronise with this process. I did not see enough evidence that it had happened. That seemed to be yet another area of development which was going on parallel railway lines without key links being made. Adaptive behaviour which is referred to must include all these coping strategies and mechanisms and they have got to become one process.
  (Ms Helmer) One of the worries I have about the negotiation of national adaptation programmes which started under COP7 for the LDC fund, is that too much time is going into negotiations at global UN level. I think some countries, like the UK and a few others, could start to make the trend at a lower, bilateral level to develop the ideas of what a national adaptation programme should and should not be and then put it into the argument. It would be better if we had more cases that could be brought into that debate. I totally agree with what Professor Davis is saying, that from the disaster management perspective there is a lot of experience that could be brought into it which is not happening at the moment.

Mr Colman

  149. The Committee is going to Ghana and Nigeria in early March and it would be very useful if you are able to give us any evidence of what is happening in terms of those two countries' National Action Plans for Adaptation in terms of dealing with disaster mitigation and preparedness. I am thinking particularly in terms of the south of the country as I think you said 60 strategies over the last period and you were quite critical of them. If it is possible, if necessary on a confidential basis, to provide us with information, any of you, on the situation there and the PRSP as well that would be very helpful.
  (Mr Atkins) If I can just make a point about that, about the number of different strategies that there are. Something we are hearing from our partners is that they are being consulted to death as members of civil society on one strategy after another. It is good that they are being consulted, but many of these strategies should be one and the same strategy. It is not a new thought to you and I know DFID has been doing some good work on how PRSPs, National Strategies for Sustainable Development, should actually be coherent. I think we need a lot more of that.

  Chairman: That is a very good point and a good point, I suspect, on which to conclude. Can I thank you very much for coming to give us some excellent really very helpful evidence which has been very much appreciated. Thank you very much for giving us your time this morning.

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