Wisner B and Adams J (eds) 2002 Environmental Health in Emergencies and
Disasters: A Practical Guide. World Health Organization.
See Chapter 5. Recovery and sustainable development
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).
ReliefWeb: "UN-HABITAT and UNHCR sign agreement to help bridge the gap between relief and development " Geneva, 17 December 2003
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.
ReliefWeb: The ISO 9001 Quality Approach:
Useful for the Humanitarian Aid Sector? http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/9ca65951ee22658ec125663300408599/25f9cf5a7c0b4ab0c1256b4b00367719?OpenDocument
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
29 January 2001.
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
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
Borgo Sarchiani 19, 50026 San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Firenze, Italy
Tel: (+39) 055 822-9423 / (+39) 0333 432-8832
E-mails: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
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
"[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
ability to help others suffering from earthquakes," Interior Minister Chang Po-ya
[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
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
worst-affected areas." [CA, 15 Jan. 2001]
Even better to have a history and local partners right
"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
[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?
Back to the top