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Acting Today For Tomorrow: A Policy and Practice Note for Climate and Disaster Resilient Development in the Pacific Islands Region

June 4, 2012

June 04, 2012 - Audience and purpose. This Policy and Practice Note grows out of extensive consultations with countries, regional organizations, and donors and other development partners, and it is addressed primarily to high-level policymakers and decision makers within them. Its analysis and recommendations are meant to inform disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) planning across a range of institutions at all levels.

  • The consequences of not acting today. Of the 20 countries in the world with the highest average annual disaster losses scaled by gross domestic product, eight are Pacific island countries: Vanuatu, Niue, Tonga, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, and the Cook Islands. Unless development planning in Pacific Islands countries focuses on the need to assess hazard risks, these countries will remain among the most vulnerable in the world.
  • Since 1950 extreme events have affected approximately 9.2 million people in the Pacific region, causing 9,811 deaths and damage of around US$3.2 billion. A “business as usual” approach to managing risks—one that focuses more on disaster relief than on long-term disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA)—will result in increased economic and human losses from extreme events. A business as usual approach may also slow economic growth and delay or even set back progress towards Millennium Development Goals.
  • Acting today to reduce the consequences of future extreme events can be cost-effective. For example, collecting weather and climate data and generating forecasts is costly, but the benefits can be considerable Benefit-cost analyses suggest that investing in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation is sound policy. Benefit-cost ratios as high as 44 have already been demonstrated in the Pacific.
  • Lessons of the last decade. DRR and CCA initiatives in the Pacific commenced in the late 1990s and the number of projects being implemented has increased significantly since 2007. However, this increase has not translated into greater progress towards reducing vulnerability. A key problem is that current interventions are typically project based. This means that initiatives tend to have short time frames with little carryover from one project to the next. It also means that projects are generally identified as either DRR or CCA, when the two should be seen as part of a continuum from hazard focused to development focused.
  • Weak coordination and partnership between institutions involved with DRR, CCA, and development limit the impact of interventions. For example, organizational links and cooperation among the various projects and programs are too limited, both at the national and at the regional level. Joint programming of CCA and DRR activities by donors and implementing agencies is not widespread. Donor organizations’ institutional rigidity also contributes to this problem by making cooperation and partnership more difficult.
  • Reducing vulnerability requires improved coordination and alignment between existing DRR and CCA institutions, and greater involvement by relevant ministries (in particular Finance and Economic Planning). This would make CCA and DRR into economy wide and development-wide issues and would facilitate effective whole-of-government and regional approaches. Reducing vulnerability also requires stronger political leadership, improved monitoring and evaluation, and end-user-friendly information; these will ensure that DRR and CCA considerations are mainstreamed in development plans and included in budgets, that well-designed DRR and CCA initiatives are delivered efficiently, and that leaders make informed decisions.
  • The way forward: Overcoming remaining barriers. The lessons of the past decade teach us that climate- and disaster-resilient development is possible: risk considerations are grounded in development; political authority, leadership, and accountability are robust and effective; and coordination and partnerships are strong.
  • Recommendations for fostering resilient development. Among many possible steps to addressing the abovementioned priority requirements are:
  • To ground risk considerations in development, governments and partners should,among other key initiatives, ensure that climate and disaster data are easy to access and inform the selection of priority investments and development programs. They should also give precedence to development initiatives that reduce vulnerability and adapt existing
    tools (such as land use plans, building codes, and environmental regulations) to achieve
    higher resilience to all hazards.
  • To achieve robust and effective political authority, leadership, and accountability
    for more resilient development, governments should anchor coordination of DRR and
    CCA in a high-level central ministry/body both at national and regional levels and ensure
    that leaders are knowledgeable about disaster and climate risk management. They should
    build on existing mechanisms such as strategic and corporate planning and budgetary
    processes, as well as proactively include communities, provincial governments, and
    central governments in the design and implementation of disaster- and climate-resilient investments.
  • To promote strong coordination and partnerships, countries and development
    partners need mutual trust, respect, and flexibility. With good working relationships,
    each partner’s comparative advantage is optimized, adequate resourcing is ensured,
    and knowledge and implementation capacity are shared efficiently. Better cooperation
    between governments and donors would allow alignment of funding sources for CCA,
    DRR, and development, which would in turn promote flexible financing arrangements
    and allow current and anticipated risks to be addressed.