“From Diamonds to Despair: crafting a new fate for developing nations and emerging markets in the advent and aftermath of hazard events”
Richard Hazel, and in collaboration with Charles D. Sharp, CEO Black Emergency Managers Association International
October 22, 2017
Reality, Disasters Are Increasing on Communities
One of the more active and destructive hurricane seasons to visit the Atlantic in recent decades has once again cast a spotlight on the lacking readiness of developing nations geographically located in high-risk, impact zones for one of nature’s most destructive windstorm seasons that occurs six months of every year. Under normal blue sky conditions these nations exist at fragile economic, political and social vulnerability intersects of people, places and things. The inhabitants of the provinces, towns and parishes on these islands know well the daily lessons of hardship and making hard decisions- as borne out in the narratives and histories of their journeys from emancipation toward independence.
Political Landscape in Risk Decisions
Repetitive and increasing losses and costs of disasters cannot be wholly blamed on variability in cyclic climatic conditions, forces of nature, nor the divine wrath of any deity’s fury. The destruction and despair facing these nations are direct consequences of risk decisions, non-decisions and deferrals made during times of plenty, by key institutions, leaders and stakeholders contemplating the question of how much time and effort should be expended towards mitigating pre-existing conditions and developing resilient communities in preparation for the coming times of need. The forces of nature have scant regard for electoral boundaries and voting blocks, but the usual suspects that adorn the political landscape often lack the intestinal fortitude to articulate, lead and craft a better fate or new normal for their populace. Comforting lies are easier pathways to landslide re elections than hard - but truthful- conversations with their electorate.
The inconvenient truth for many small nations is that one or more years of little to no direct impact from hazard events, breeds contempt amongst elected officials for a continued budget investment in readiness and response initiatives.
For too long there has been insufficient investment in tangible pre-disaster activities or initiatives to match continued post disaster cap in hand approaches. Such hollow affirmations to potential donors betray a chronic pre-disaster posture demonstrating greater willingness to co mingle or divert potential homeland security and emergency management funding towards more ‘significant and pressing’ fiscal concerns. The ability of G20 countries to continually provide unprecedented levels of post disaster response assets and financial recovery assistance to developing nations will be severely tested. Larger countries are themselves battling a multiplicity of natural and human adversaries unlike anything our hemisphere has seen in recent times.
It has been 12 years since Katrina, 7 years since Tomas and 5 years since Sandy. If there was any lesson to be learned from these focusing events, one should have been abundantly clear to a region unable to reasonably absorb its own risks and that is far too often characterized for its seemingly complacent, easy-going approach: No more waiting for and blaming Superman – resilience is symbiotic and a shared responsibility. In keeping with a whole community approach, individuals must be willing to accept the challenge of playing an active role in their own readiness and recovery planning. Similarly, external agencies and elected governments must commit to crafting, implementing or revising policies in a way that better address and support improvements to the current state of readiness, response and recovery gaps.
IMF Resiliency Dividend
Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund which has a long and often negatively storied relationship with developing countries, also has a role it can play. When it comes to assessing developing county risks, the protracted ripple effect that exogenous events such as climatic forces have on the economies of developing nations, may warrant a re-examination of not just the amount of weight assigned to climatic shock variables; but also the weighting assigned to – and need for – the introduction of a counterbalancing resilience variable. Such an added variable could capture into the rating or scoring assessment any pre-disaster investments in focused risk reduction initiatives within education, industry and critical infrastructure arenas, and a factoring of the data analysis and reporting of defined, measurable outputs and outcomes of such project and programmatic activities.
There is need for targeted investment in disaster education initiatives and critical infrastructure. These areas can improve risk decision making and post-disaster recovery time objectives across market sectors, thereby driving investor confidence in the capacity and capability mechanisms within a nation to rapidly respond to such adversities. The economic variable is but one of six critical interrelated, macro-environment factors that spur productivity, business investment, stabilization and overall growth.
Countries with continued low to negative post disaster declines in operational recovery, falling investor and public confidence and exponential increases in repetitive losses over a specified period of time - despite multi-year donor investment initiatives designed to reduce such impacts - could potentially see an added increase in their resilience risk rating while those with demonstrable improvements in vulnerability areas, recovery time objectives and confidence levels could see a reduction in overall risk rating. Notwithstanding the persistent need for the IMF to advocate right-sizing of government, emancipation of industry sectors from their “death by a thousand regulations”, and significant cuts in tax burdens placed on the average individual; encouraging the preservation and advancement in pre-disaster mitigation focus areas should be part and parcel of the discussion when designing or proposing austerity measures and structural adjustment policies.
Sustainable Growth and Economic Resiliency
Disaster Management as a key component to sustainable growth and economic resiliency should be as much as practicable, insulated from draconian cuts. This can serve as a boon for potential creditors and investors as they themselves prospect and assess the ability of a nation to persist, rebound and thrive in the advent and aftermath of crisis and emergency events. International institutions and researchers over the years have observed that fractional investments towards pre-disaster risk reduction strategies could avert the hundreds of billions of dollars typically expended on resultant losses.
How well have local governments and global institutional leaders walked the decades of talk and international speeches about strategizing, prioritizing, implementing and sustaining disaster risk reduction initiatives across developing nations? Has the pre and post disaster fate of the elderly and persons with functional and access needs improved by any significant measure? Or are they still society’s bastard orphans when it comes to their inclusion and engagement in readiness, response and recovery activities. Independent oversight, tracking and measuring the outcomes of external financial injects for the purposes of executing projects designed to improve readiness and resilience remains an unfortunate but necessary rehabilitative imposition. To do less provides ample opportunity for donor dollars to be diverted into public sector pork barrels of those determined to maintain their partisan political hegemonies. A nation that lapses in establishing and investing in a culture of readiness amongst its general populace and key industry sectors, is one that also lays itself open as a welcome nesting ground for terrorism, drug trafficking, political corruption and other visceral threats that continually stymie economic growth and homeland security.
CDEMA Meeting Regional Needs
The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) is one such regional entity that has taken up the challenge and embraced this mandate. Over the past quarter century, CDEMA has undergone transformation from a posture primarily focused on post-incident response and relief; to one that embraces an all-hazards full cycle approach to comprehensive disaster management. Steady advancement toward the regional goals and objectives set by CDEMA requires the continued, demonstrable non-partisan support of participating governments, private sector interests, extra regional stakeholders and the active engagement of at-risk communities.
Approaches for the Future
Now more than ever, a three pronged strategic approach of information, education and participation needs to be the mantra embraced by all. These facets must be implemented not only across the various levels of the education system, but even more critically - in the communities themselves via local community centers, libraries, faith based institutions and those non-profit organizations that while lacking the cosmetic luster of a brand name logo, are instead focused on project and program integrity, being good stewards of donated funding and evaluating and demonstrating impact of disaster based financial and social service activities.
As we look toward the uncertainties of another year, power still rests with each individual to recognize, be willing and able to become an active participant in building resilience within their community which can redound to society as a whole. Two decades have already passed since the ’94 Global Conference for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States. The final critique of our collective success or failure to pursue practicable, credible, risk reduction initiatives hinges on the lessons relearned and milestone objectives set and achieved well in advance of the next disaster event.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and other contributors; they do not reflect the official policy or position of any agency or non-governmental organization.
Richard Hazel is a graduate of the George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science. There he pursued studies in Engineering Management with a specialized focus on Crisis, Emergency and Risk Management. He has been involved in the design and implementation of community disaster education initiatives, emergency preparedness programs and has served in various roles on local, regional and international response efforts while serving with public and non-profit organizations. He is an honors graduate of the University of the West Indies and a national development scholar. His family originates from the islands of Barbados and Dominica.
Charles D. Sharp
Charles D. Sharp is the Chief Executive Officer of the Black Emergency Managers Association International (BEMA International). Association of homeland security, emergency management professionals and as part of its’ mission and vision includes members of the community from individuals, nonprofit, faith-based, private sector, and other professionals from each of the critical infrastructure sector as part of its’ whole community participation for awareness, education, and training for disasters and community engagement and resiliency building.