African countries should include disaster risk reduction in their national development plans if efforts to reduce poverty are to succeed, a senior United Nations official has said.
The impact of disasters will continue to increase and therefore eat into national budgets, calling for a rethink on how disasters are perceived in government circles, Ms Margareta Wahlstrom, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction said Wednesday.
Annual floods account for huge budget costs on disaster response in many countries, frustrating efforts towards the realisation of Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 deadline, she noted, urging governments to take more proactive steps to minimise on the damage and cost of disasters that have been on a steady rise.
“We (governments) need to work through the private sector to learn how they manage risk reduction programmes and also as an avenue for raising the much-needed resources for mitigating natural disasters,” Ms Wahlstrom said.
She was speaking to more than 170 experts drawn from 42 African countries, development and aid agencies gathered at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre for the Second Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in Africa.
A draft Programme of Action for the Implementation of the African Regional Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (2006-2015) under discussion at the conference, notes that Africa is one of the continents where the regional share of reported disasters in the world total has increased over the last decade.
The occurrence of disasters triggered by natural hazards and the socio-economic losses caused as a result are rising in Africa, posing a great threat to the continent’s ability to achieve the MDGs and sustainable development.
In addition to the socio-economic losses, a substantial amount of financial resources for development has been diverted to relief and rehabilitation assistance to disaster-affected people each year.
The draft Strategy aims at, among other things, increasing political commitment to disaster risk reduction, integrating DRR into emergency response management and improving governance of DRR institutions.
“As the 2009 Global Assessment Report on disaster risk reduction indicates, people’s exposure to disasters is growing at a faster rate than risk reducing capacities are being strengthened,” said Ms Wahlstrom.
“Regional mechanisms such as the African Regional Strategy and the Programme of Action are the best tools to address these new challenges and avoid disasters in the future,” she said.
She said disaster risk reduction received a boost from last year’s Climate Change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, as emphasis was laid on the need for countries to come up with measures to help adapt. She said there is need to allocate a certain percentage of humanitarian aid in disaster reduction programmes, noting that some organizations have started going in that direction.
Further, she pointed out, suggestions for 30 per cent of climate change adaptation funds to be allocated disaster preparedness activities could prove beneficial in the long run if adopted.
Ms Tumusiime Rhoda-Peace, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union Commission, noted that disasters continually raise new challenges of development at different levels across Africa, calling for concerted efforts to address them.
Africa, alongside Asia, is the most vulnerable continent to disasters and is likely to be more affected by climate-related hazards in the future. According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, more than 1,800 disasters killed more than 700,000 people in Africa over the past 30 years and affecting more than 300 million others.
The three-day conference organized jointly the African Union Commission, the Government of Kenya and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in collaboration with the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.
It was opened yesterday by Special Programmes minister, Naomi Shaban, and takes place parallel to the First Ministerial Conference of Ministers Responsible for Meteorology in Africa.
Dr Shaban regretted that although Africa has made some progress at regional, sub-regional and national levels, a lot remains to be done. She cited lack of requisite capacities and resources required for the implementation of disaster policies and low translation of political commitment into actions in a manner that disaster risk reduction could be brought to the core of national development planning, programmes and activities, as key challenges facing many countries.
Lack of disaster preparedness has remained one of Kenya’s enduring development challenges for decades and the Kenyan Government has been criticised especially in view of the recent droughts, floods and landslides, for lack of preparedness and ad hoc response.
Droughts and floods cost Kenya alone US$ 1 billion with adverse effects on water and food security, human and animal lives, and extensive damage to the infrastructure.
In the pursuit of reducing vulnerabilities to risks, the government last year formulated the National Policy on Disaster Management to institutionalise mechanisms for addressing disasters. This puts emphasis on both government and community preparedness to deal with disasters and so far, community radios have been set up in drought and floods-prone areas such as North Eastern and Budalang’i to warn residents in advance of disasters.