Research-action partnerships key to disaster resilience in Asia

Jyotiraj Patra, ESPA Regional Advisor, Asia
November 10, 2016

Last week the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which was opened by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took place in New Dehli. Our regional advisor for Asia Jyotiraj Patra was there, and here in this blog he gives us his own view on the key messages from the event.

Key Take Outs:

  • Research-action partnerships are critical to co-produce disaster risk information to help policy makers and planners better understand and reduce disaster risks.
  • Asia’s unique geography and integrated economies render many disaster risks trans-boundary. Such partnerships and networks would further strengthen efforts around regional cooperation and action.
  • Two critical areas of research and evidence needs that emerged at the conference are poverty-disaster risk resilience linkages and the emerging urban risk challenges.
  • The Asia Regional Plan offers a unique opportunity to forge new forms of partnerships, including south-south cooperation, to understand and address these challenges at the regional, national and local levels.

 

The Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR), the first one after the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR, 2015-2030), was held at New Delhi, 02-05 November. The primary objective was to transform the commitment of governments and stakeholders made in Sendai during the World Conference on DRR (WCDRR, March 2015) into national and local level actions. More than 50 national governments and a range of Stakeholder Groups spelt out their commitments to the SFDRR targets. The conference adopted the Asia Regional Plan for Implementation of the Sendai framework and New Delhi Declaration 2016.

The Asia Regional Plan provides broad policy directions for implementation of the Sendai Framework in the region and sets specific time-bound milestones. Concerted and coherent actions are required by governments and other stakeholders to localise these priorities and work towards these milestones. Their needs and capacities are varied and span a wide spectrum – from finance to   technology to devolution of more authorities.

One of the key themes that emerged from the conference deliberations, including more than 21 Thematic Events and 19 Pre-Conference Events, was the need for strong research-action partnerships at various levels to support disaster risk reduction (DRR) decisions and investments. The Asia Regional Plan also recognises the need for such partnerships and calls to promote regional cooperation through science, research and knowledge exchange.

For an international, inter-disciplinary research programme like ESPA, these are indeed unique opportunities in the region to inform and influence DRR policy decisions through better research-action partnerships. It was quite encouraging to see the need and demand for such partnerships coming mostly from policy makers, practitioners and the private sector.

We take this opportunity to reflect on the need, and timeliness, of such research-action partnerships at various levels in the region.

The first and foremost being the need for co-production of disaster risk information to address  dynamic, differential and multi-layered disaster risks in the region. Governments, communities and business investments encounter different forms of risks and the cumulative impact of these risks are diverse and differential. While many disaster risks are related to natural hazards such as floods and cyclones, capacities to cope with, and respond to, are determined by existing socio-economic, political and technological capabilities of systems. Disaster risk information which is hazard-centric and ignores these underlying factors are ineffective in understanding and addressing disaster risk in a given context. For example, the 2016 Global Risk Report (World Economic Forum, 2016) identifies failure of national governance as one of the most likely risk category for Asia. Thus disaster risk information needs to be comprehensive, robust and actionable and this needs collaboration and partnerships across the science-policy-practice spectrum at various levels. While such partnerships are comparatively easy to forge at the regional and national levels, the real needs, and opportunities, are often at the local district and city levels. Our research on water security in small and medium towns in Indian Himalayas demonstrates the need for such partnerships at the city level. This requires a shift from the business-as-usual and linear approach to research and promote more collaborative actions involving researchers, practitioners and policy makers. More importantly, this will help build a common and shared understanding of disaster risk among various stakeholders.

The second one is around the opportunities for such partnerships to support decisions pertaining to transboundary disaster risks such as floods and cyclones. One of the conference’s Featured Events on Strengthening Regional Cooperation for Implementation of the Sendai Framework in Asia highlighted the willingness and scope for such partnerships among many inter-governmental regional organizations (IGO) in Asia such as ASEAN, SAARC, Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), Tri-lateral Cooperation Secretariat, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) the Asia Pacific Economic Community (APEC) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). Research-action partnerships can add value through these existing mechanism of regional cooperation.

 

The third one pertains to two critical areas of research and evidence on poverty-disaster risk resilience linkages and urban risks.  Many conference participants and speakers identified the needs to better understand the poverty-disaster risk resilience linkages as part of the Asia Regional Plan. The story of poverty reduction in Asia has not been even and poverty levels are still high for many vulnerable and marginalised groups (ADB, 2015). Such groups and their livelihood assets are at greater risks. Resilience building actions among such communities need a robust evidence on poverty-resilience linkages and identify ways in which poverty alleviation measures could effectively reduce disaster risk.  Urban risks emerged as another area where more research-action partnerships are required to make rapidly urbanising Asian cities and urban centres more disaster resilient and inclusive. Such partnerships would help address the evidence needs of city governments, municipal authorities, private sector and citizens for resilient urban planning and investments. In one of the side events co-hosted with UNEP and Pragya, we formally announced the Urban, Peri-Urban and Ecosystems Working Group - our new partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation pioneered Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN). This Working Group aims to promote cross-learning and strengthen such partnerships at city levels in the region.

The forth opportunity is around the scope and need for greater research-action partnerships through south-south cooperation, exchange and collaborative learning on resilience building in the region and beyond. While governments and businesses are active in such cooperation, the research and practitioners’ communities could further contribute to the process by developing innovative and effective actions. Research in general, and disaster risk in particular, has great potential to bridge political and national boundaries and help address common challenges of disaster risk resilience in the region.

We hope that the energy, momentum and clarity gained at the AMCDRR 2016 would catalyse and guide strong research-action partnerships to build a resilient Asia.