Radix - Standards for Preparedness and Response

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bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes)  Wisner B and Adams J (eds) 2002 Environmental Health in Emergencies and Disasters: A Practical Guide. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/hygiene/emergencies/emergencies2002/en/
See Chapter 5. Recovery and sustainable development http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/hygiene/emergencies/em2002chap5.pdf

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies. This handbook presents the global minimum standards for education in emergencies, and outlines the result of the broad and consultative process of the development of these minimum standards. Produced by: Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) (2004). 

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) ReliefWeb: "UN-HABITAT and UNHCR sign agreement to help bridge the gap between relief and development " Geneva, 17 December 2003

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) The People In Aid Code http://www.peopleinaid.org/code/index.htm

People In Aid has now launched updated guidelines on support, safety and management of staff. The People In Aid "Code of Good Practice in the management and support of aid personnel" is a tool to help agencies offer better development aid and disaster relief to communities in need, and is an important part of their efforts to improve standards, accountability and transparency amid the challenges of disaster, conflict and poverty. As well as building on previous guidelines, the Code reflects the growing attention of aid groups on issues of health and safety, diversity and equality, and is relevant for agencies engaged in development and advocacy as well as emergency response.

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) ReliefWeb: The ISO 9001 Quality Approach: Useful for the Humanitarian Aid Sector? http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/9ca65951ee22658ec125663300408599/25f9cf5a7c0b4ab0c1256b4b00367719?OpenDocument

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) Rodger Doran

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) Ian Burton

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) David Alexander

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) Ben Wisner
(These contributions are in reverse date order)

From Rodger Doran     (Back to the top)

Congratulations on the Radix site - the initiative is most welcome and I have enjoyed looking at the material on the site.

I would like to make a comment on the suggestion for an Intergovernmental Panel on Natural Disasters. While I agree very much with the concept I think the name that you propose is too readily linked to a response-centred focus, which in my opinion is not the most pressing need in natural disaster management. In fact, the lethality of disasters has been reduced markedly in the last 30 years - probably due to the attention given to improving emergency preparedness and response capacities around the world. In the decade of the 1970s, disasters killed an average 3.6 people per 100,000 population world wide - by the year 2000 this had dropped to 1.4. In the same period, the numbers of people affected jumped from 1918 per 100,000 population to 3459. To me this indicates that while we still have much to do in improving response in disasters, we have made progress but we have made no progress in addressing issues of hazard, and breaking the hazard-disaster link. This alone justifies setting up an Expert body to look at why this is so, since hazard, prevention and mitigation have been part of the disaster rhetoric for a long time, and presumably there must be some development programmes operated within a disaster management framework (rather than geological, meteorological, hydrological etc) that have tried to address issues of hazard.

Hazards will always be with us, but they don't have to become disasters. If we look at data for 4 of the most measurable hazards for which we have good historical scientific and humanitarian data (volcanoes, earthquakes, storms and floods), we can see that a higher proportion of these hazards are becoming disasters than ever before (e.g. prior to 1970, 0.15% of earthquakes above Richter 4 resulted in a disaster, by 2000 - this had risen to 0.3% even though the average number of Richter 4+ earthquakes per year is slightly less now than 100 years ago). Hazards events related to climate change and environmental degradation are occurring in higher numbers per year and a higher proportion of them are causing disasters (slides - mud, land and snow seem to be rising particularly dramatically). There is also some evidence that the drip-drip-drip of repeated non-disaster hazard events (mainly flood) in vulnerable communities can be as bad any single event disaster, and a focus on disaster will miss all the many non-disaster hazard events that are cumulatively cause very high levels of economic loss, social disruption, secondary environmental degradation and morbidity.

An Intergovernmental Panel which focuses on Hazards and addresses issues by promoting a risk management approach (combining vulnerability reduction, hazard mitigation/prevention and emergency preparedness under one programmatic umbrella) would be a very important advance in consolidating scientific, technical and humanitarian knowledge, and promoting research into the gaps in our knowledge. A hazard approach should accommodate all kinds of hazards - not just natural hazards - Technological hazards contributed to only 18% of events in the 1970's but 41% in the 1990's. I believe there is a growing realisation now that hazards are either natural or manmade but disasters are all manmade - we have to start seeing human behaviour as the cause of disasters and to resolve to change the way we behave and manage our environment. Additionally hazards addressed through a risk management approach gives disaster management practitioners a comfortable seat at the development table (too often we are seen as peripheral), as risk management has a natural focus on local government, community, sustainability and consultation for consensus building.

A Panel which is seen to focus on cause rather than effect (as the other panels' titles do) will also present a more positive image to policy makers and decision makers - the term Natural Disaster Reduction is a good example of an unfortunate choice of name that did nothing to help the credibility of organisations that adopted it as a tag.

Finally a word on the Gujarat earthquake - one of the issues that concerns me is the decision of the Indian government to set up another layer of bureaucracy to manage disasters - a body which almost certainly will be under funded, inappropriately staffed and toothless in the Indian federal system. A clear need that the recent great disasters (Turkey, Mitch, Orissa etc) have demonstrated, and which UN agencies and donors continue to ignore, is that coal-face emergency workers such as police, fire departments, ambulance and paramedics, where they exist, need to be given a thorough grounding in basic emergency management skills (search and rescue, first aid, crowd control, emergency transport, casualty management etc etc) - if these agencies don't exist in villages, towns and rural areas, development programmes should try to set them up, since they have an important role in addition to disaster management. If this were done, delayed national response times and confusion in the capital would have less impact, and funds set aside for sending international teams to rescue a few dead bodies could be more profitable used to support the survivors.

Again congratulations for taking the initiative to set up the site.

Dr Rodger Doran
Emergency and Humanitarian Action Programme
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific

Ian Burton, 29. January. 2001    (Back to the top)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Natural Disasters. (IPND)

No such panel exists. But it could and it should. The model is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This panel established jointly by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has been extremely successful. A brief review of the reasons for its success provides some grounds for the proposal to establish an Intergovernmental Panel on Natural Disasters, and some suggestions about how it might work. Account is also taken of the contrary views that will certainly be expressed.

When the climate change issue emerged onto the international agenda in the late 1980s, some insightful persons foresaw that the potentially catastrophic consequences of unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases would eventually require far reaching international agreements. It was also realized that reaching any sort of agreement would be impossible in the absence of a common understanding of the knowledge base; that is the science, the technology, the economics and other "facts" of the case. The Working Group on Greenhouse Gases (WGGG) was established through the cooperation of WMO, UNEP, and the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). Before long, negotiations were begun to create an international agreement which would eventually be signed at the Rio de Janeiro "Earth Summit" in 1992. As the process of negotiations got underway the diplomatic community, not least those in Foggy Bottom, realized just how fractious the climate change issue could prove to be, and they became wary of letting loose on the problem an independent group of scientists such as those associated with ICSU. Consequently the WGGG was replaced by the IPCC. The IPCC is an intergovernmental body charged with reviewing and assessing the science of climate change in its broadest sense. This includes the atmospheric science and the interactions of the atmosphere with the oceans and the biosphere. It also includes the assessment of what is known about actual and potential impacts, and the social and economic dimensions of the possible adaptation and mitigation responses. Two major assessments have been produced by drawing on the largely pro bono services of more than 2,000 leading scientists nominated by their governments , and the Third Assessment is due to appear later this year (2001). Without the IPCC it is questionable if the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change would ever have come into force, and it is most unlikely that the Kyoto Protocol to the Convention would have been agreed to in December 1997. The Protocol has not yet come into force. This will only happen after it has been ratified by at least 55 Parties to the Convention, including developed countries accounting for at least 55% of the total 1990 carbon dioxide emissions. Throughout the negotiations, (and they are expected to continue indefinitely) the IPCC has been looked to as an independent and authoritative source of information. The IPCC assessments are scrupulously careful in avoiding prescriptive judgments. The reports are confined to assessments of what is known, and the degree of confidence that can be ascribed to specific conclusions. The reports also identify knowledge gaps, and thus provide a signpost to the research community. They are widely regarded and accepted as the authority on climate change.

There are questions about the true independence of the IPCC since it is an intergovernmental body, and all reports are either adopted (in the case of the Summaries for Policy Makers) or accepted (in the case of the texts of the underlying reports) at intergovernmental meetings. The debates are sometimes very contentious, but they center on the science, and talk of policies, or actions is excluded. For some schools of post-modern science and philosophy this neutrality of science is a fiction. If so, then it is a very useful fiction and one in which the players seem mostly happy to believe, or to suspend their disbelief. In a very real and positive sense however the idea of neutral science works because the large majority of the scientists themselves intend to be neutral. This kind of skepticism has widespread value to scientists. To be sure, sometimes political positions are cloaked in scientific arguments. Delegates can and sometimes do try to obstruct proceedings in order to make a political point. Ultimately however in IPCC fora the appeal is to the science, and the collective scientific judgment carries the day. How well the process works can be seen by the fact that the judgments of individual and groups of scientists do not conform automatically to the positions that their national governments might wish.

Political opinions differ widely about climate change. Some countries (small island states) are outraged and virtually in a panic about sea level rise caused by climate change. At the other extreme, the major oil exporting countries tend to deny that the phenomenon has any reality, or claim that the uncertainties are so great that precipitous action now could be both economically damaging and quite unnecessary. If left to the policy process alone, in which the position of each country was backed by its own selected science, negotiations themselves would scarcely be possible. The existence of the IPCC and the open and effective way in which it has conducted its business, has served to narrow considerably the range of scientific disagreement, to reduce the uncertainty and to narrow the scope of the international negotiations. The claim that the work of the IPCC has been extremely successful, depends somewhat on expectations about the prospects of arriving at binding, effective, and enforceable international agreements. Given the complexities of the climate change issue, the level of uncertainty in the science, and the fact that vital national interests appear to be at stake , it is remarkable that the negotiations have proceeded as far as they have, and that nations continue to exhibit a strong determination to reach agreement sooner or later. All this owes much to the work of the IPCC in formulating its assessments and communicating them to the Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention.

The proposal by Ben Wisner to develop an international treaty that deals with the responsibilities of the nations individually and collectively in the face of the soaring costs of natural disasters is both visionary and practicable. It can be done. It goes without saying that it will not be easy. The most recent international effort to do something more constructive about natural disasters, the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, largely failed. The reasons for the failure have to do with the weaknesses of the United Nations system, and the lack of commitment by many national governments, especially those in developed countries. A fundamental misunderstanding of the problem at the outset of the Decade also contributed to its mediocre performance. It was believed that advancements in scientific understanding of the geophysical processes had reached, or were about to reach, a point at which much improved forecasts and warnings could be issued giving people and governments time to take precautionary action. This proved, as some predicted, to be an overly optimistic view. The timely and precise forecasts and warnings were generally not forthcoming, and even when they were the expectation that precautionary action would significantly reduce losses proved to be a pious hope. The best results have been obtained in the case of atmosphere-related hazards such as tropical cyclones and floods where it has proved possible to reduce the number of lives lost, but not the level of property losses or environmental damage. In the case of earthquakes there has been no equivalent success in the saving of life despite the fact that high earthquake zones are for the most part defined, and building technology is available to prevent collapse in all but the most extreme circumstances.

In the developed countries the rising toll of economic losses, insured and uninsured, probably does not significantly exceed the rise in national wealth as measured by GDP. In developing counties the probability is now being recognized that long term recurrent disaster losses may over time exceed the growth in GDP such that economies are setback (sometimes by a decade or more in a few minutes) and that de-development occurs. Such trend are not unknown in the global economy. Trade and currency fluctuations can be a major setback to development, but these risks are well recognized and are under constant surveillance by the IMF, the WTO, and national governments in developed and developing countries.

In the view of many informed players and observers, the lessons of the Decade should not be lost and some follow-up action is needed. So far the only action has been the creation of a small Secretariat in Geneva, and the establishment of an inter-agency Task Force , collectively named the International Strategy Disaster Reduction. So far there is not much sign of a strategy. It promises to be an ineffective palliative "strategy" designed more to placate than to achieve.

Ben Wisner is right. There is a need to create an effective international regime to work collectively for the prevention of natural disasters. This might be addressed through the negotiation of a Framework Convention for Natural Disaster Prevention. The experience with the Climate Convention shows that such negotiations would benefit greatly from careful assessments made by an intergovernmental body such as IPCC. Such an assessment would need to consider not only the geophysical science of disasters, but the root causes in social and economic systems which expose so many when the knowledge of how to prevent the worst effects is known and widely available.

Both to create momentum and to ensure that any negotiations towards a convention or treaty for disaster prevention are well founded upon existing knowledge a useful step would be the creation of an Intergovernmental Panel on Natural Disasters. Potential parent organizations include the World Bank, UNDP, and WMO (for atmospheric hazards) and UNESCO (for oceans and geological and geophysical hazards).

It may be objected that international treaties and conventions are not an effective way of managing such global problems; that there are too many treaties already; or even that disasters are a matter for national governments and that the only international response should be in the realm of immediate emergency relief where a disaster response exceeds that capacity of a government. In response it is being increasingly recognized that humanity is now being drawn closer and closer together by the forces of globalization. Peoples around the globe have a much more intimate knowledge of each other than ever before. Humanity shares a common future and a common destiny. Part of that is a common responsibility to use the knowledge we have to do what can be done.

A good first step would be the establishment of an Intergovernmental Panel on Natural Disasters charged with the task of making an assessment of the present state of knowledge.

Ian Burton.
29 January 2001.

David Alexander: Why don't we write an international standard on disaster mitigation and preparedness?    (Back to the top)

More on El Salvador

Some more belated reflections on the situation in El Salvador. I have been teaching disaster management in Milan, and until now have not had time to read through all the accumulated e-mails of the debate. No doubt I am behind on the debate as I have not been able to read my e-mail for a couple of days. Please use the following comments as and if you see fit. They were written off line (on the Eurostar train) and hence I have not forwarded them to other correspondents.

Although you are right to point out that it is perfectly possible to identify landslides along the Pan-American highway and reduce the hazard, if I were invited to participate in such a project I would not want to unless I could be sure my work were utilized. In the past I have done landslide hazard studies, and suggested remedies, only to have my work ignored because the political will to do something about the problem was not present.

There is not even any satisfaction in saying ''I told you so''. Last Sunday I found that my home town's bypass road has been built across the place I identified (to a member of the town council) as a paleo-landslide last June, and half of the carriageway has collapsed in a multiple regressive landslide. You ask what it costs to do something about these problems. The first answer is, according to the miserably small amount of published work that attempts to quantify the answer, that there is a cost-benefit ratio of up to 1:9 for prior mitigation (cost of engineering work against estimated value of damage avoided). However, costs vary enormously with the type, extension, depth, speed, water content, and stage of development of landslides. I estimate that the one I mentioned above will cost $300,000 to rectify and it is only 50 meters wide (it also depends on the quality of the work, but an effective solution is seldom cheap once landsliding has started).

I note that there seems to be hunger for remote sensing products in El Salvador. If they mean satellite images I respectfully suggest that these are a red herring. The scale is usually wrong for landslide studies.

Although the connection between deforestation and the lethal seismic landsliding is plausible it is not demonstrated by the welter of accusations that have followed the disaster. As the debate has not been a scientific one, it is impossible to ascertain from afar whether it really was a case of the ultimate cause being deforestation. Landslides are polycausal phenomena (see my paper on this in Environmental Geology). There are difficult questions to answer about the balance of different short-term and long-term causes. These require field investigation, though this need not be particularly sophisticated.

Apparently, from the information you relayed, there were 249 seismic landslides on roads in El Salvador. Given the dimensions of the earthquake, I would say that they got away with it lightly!

''There are not agreed international standards on mitigation an preparedness,'' you (and others) write. There is NFPA 1600, a standard on disaster prevention from the National Fire Prevention Association, Quincy, Mass. They sell it for $24.99!! I think it's the legal and operational equivalent of a camel (a horse designed by a committee).

OK, so there aren't agreed international standards -- well why don't WE write one? I have already made a start on a draft international standard for emergency management training. Come on, let's do it! It doesn't require huge teams of lawyers and experts, only good sense and honesty, so we're qualified.

All the best,


David E. Alexander, PhD
Professor of Geography
University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA
Editor-in-Chief, Environmental Management
Editor, Springer Book Series on Environmental Management
Current address:-
Borgo Sarchiani 19, 50026 San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Firenze, Italy
Tel: (+39) 055 822-9423 / (+39) 0333 432-8832
E-mails: catastrophe@tiscalinet.it / davida@geo.umass.edu

Ben Wisner, original RADIX 'think-piece'     (Back to the top)

"CIDA is sending two Hercules aircraft - contracted from Canadian Forces - with a total
capacity of 30 tonnes of emergency materials, including power generators, clean water and
sanitation equipment, as well as shovels, picks, blankets and first aid kits."
[CIDA, 14 Jan. 2001]

Why can't El Salvador stockpile such very basic things- Or, at least, why can't they be stockpiled on a regional basis for Central America (CEPREDENAC)?

"[El Salvador's] Congress approved legislation late on Tuesday that keeps retailers from hiking prices of
bottled water and basic foods such as beans and corn, which Salvadorans were clamoring
for after the quake, reported local media." [Reuters, 17 Jan. 2001]

There needs to be legislation already on the books for such contingency. This is part of the enabling legislation that should on the books of every nation as the result of the IDNDR!

Major Taiwanese charity groups have offered to take part in rescue and relief work to help El
Salvador hit by a killer earthquake, officials said Monday. ... We are glad we now have the
ability to help others suffering from earthquakes," Interior Minister Chang Po-ya said."
[AFP, 15 Jan. 2001]

A number of distant countries that have suffered devastating earthquakes, including Turkey, Japan, PRC, and Taiwan, are sending search and rescue or medical teams. The former will probably arrive too late. The latter may well not be necessary (and donated medicines and medical equipment could end up burdening the recipients and being wasted - see PAHO guidelines). So why does this continue? Basic human solidarity and compassion? Attempts to please voters (e.g. in Taiwan or Turkey)? Attempt to appear competent in such matters in the face of doubts by citizens at home (e.g. Turkey)? Geopolitics (PRC vs. Taiwan)? Incremental links and connections for future economic benefits by contractors, etc.?

"AFSC is sending 4,000 hygiene kits and has released $10,000 from its Crisis Fund to pay for
local purchase of emergency supplies. AFSC staff on the ground assembled seven truckloads
of food, hygiene supplies, candles, and tools for delivery from Honduras." [Interaction, 16 Jan.

This seems a reasonable way to do things: local purchase, work with partners in the region , rapid response.

"Oxfam America has offices in the capital city of San Salvador and has contacts with
communities around the country. Oxfam is particularly well-positioned to deliver emergency
relief and long-term rehabilitation aid, having carried out similar work in the region after the
devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Oxfam partners, Las Dignas, have already organized
brigades to support the most affected communities of Santa Tecla and Usulutan, addressing
immediate needs for food and water." [Oxfam, 15 Jan. 2001]

" Carolyn Williams, Head of Christian Aid's Latin America and Caribbean team, said the
charity will be initially donating $100,000 to Christian Aid funded organisations working in the
worst-affected areas." [CA, 15 Jan. 2001]

Even better to have a history and local partners right there.

"There has been some criticism leveled at the government - that they have being giving
priority to the population base of its own political party rather than targeting on a needs basis."
[Ros O'Sullivan, Concern (Ireland), 19 January 2001]

Such allegations are very common. They were made following hurricane Mitch against the ruling party in Nicaragua. There is much soul searching world wide as financial and human resources have been hemorrhaging from development work into humanitarian missions. Why does a novel like Le Carre's The Constant Gardener ring true despite its specific fictions?

"'Many people are not really homeless at all and are just taking advantage,' says Mauricio Ferrer, director-general of the [Salvadoran] National Emergency Committee." [A. Bounds and R. Lapper, "Earthquake opens up some old divisions," Financial Times, 20 January, 2001, p. 3]

Let them eat cake?

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