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NEWS: Finding the right questions to ask about DRM in Asia


As the first day of CDKN’s Disaster Risk Management (DRM) learning and innovation hub kicked-off in Bangkok, one last minute cancellation brought home the reality of the issue being discussed.

The head of the State Disaster Management Centre in Uttarakhand, a Himalayan state in India, was due to join the group. However, the unexpected early monsoon rain has brought tragedy to the state and he had to stay back and manage relief efforts. Heavy rainfall has caused Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) and avalanches. The death toll currently stands at over 100 but it is expected to rise significantly, with roads and buildings across the state washed away.

As Uttarakhand struggles with the reality of responding to natural disasters, the 41 partners and experts gathered for the learning hub considered how we can be better prepared for such climate extremes, and reduce the risk of a climate hazard becoming a disaster.

The group represents practitioners and researchers from Kazakhstan to the Philippines with a scattering of leading thinkers in the field from Europe and beyond.  The 2.5 day programme is highly interactive and intense with participants expected to carefully reflect on the results and failures of their own work and what this can tell us about how to achieve effective climate-related DRM.

“We want this to be unlike any other workshop or conference the participants have attended. The group represents some of the leading experts in the region and beyond and have vast experience of DRM in different countries and contexts. They will be working hard over the next 2.5 days to share and understand their learning, and together we will see where and how we should be focusing our ‘call for action’ for national Governments” Ali T. Sheikh, CDKN Asia Director.

The hub is built around a framework for effective DRM – introduced by CDKN Project Manager Dina Khan in a previous blog – which has five components:

  • Understanding and evaluating disaster risks
  • Planning and investing with disaster risk in mind
  • Securing consistent and effective financial resources
  • Spreading innovation
  • Leadership and collaboration

As Dina explained: “The framework which will guide the discussions, and organise the learning, over the next few days builds on what CDKN has already seen as the critical issues and gaps for DRM in the region. Through discussion and debate we hope to get some of the solutions and best practices from our partners in the field.”

The group started a discussion on this framework by asking “who should we learn from?” Often, the expectation is that Asia should learn from the West. But, many representing these countries pointed to the uniformed debate in Australia, the overly technical approach in Germany and the UK’s bad record of building in flood-prone areas.  The consensus was that there is cutting-edge innovation happening here in Asia, and a more rich and useful debate happens when we gather stakeholders from within the region.

The next task was to identify the questions the group needs to reflect on, and find answers to.  To anchor this in reality, case studies were given from the partners’ work.

For example, Lorna Davey from Mott MacDonald presented their work with the Punjab Provisional Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) in Pakistan on climate compatible reconstruction and village planning.  She highlighted the importance of the construction sector for DRM and engaging both at the policy level, but also with the private sector. Tasneem Siddiqui from RMMRU discussed how they are providing directly to the Government of Bangladesh the evidence they need on climate and disaster-induced displacement to allow them to put in place a supportive policy framework. Their conclusion is that instead of looking at migration as a failure to adapt it can be viewed as one of the strategies of adaptation.

Given these experiences, the group then set the ‘key questions which if we could answer here would make the biggest difference to DRM’. The list was long, and a prioritisation exercise is needed tomorrow.

For example,

  • Risk evaluations rely too much on community knowledge and perception, and this information is not adequately combined with research data for more balanced and scientific results. On the other hand some evaluations are too top down. The question is how do we combine scientific and community knowledge more appropriately in risk evaluations?
  • How to demonstrate the benefit of risk evaluation to decision makers? We need to show very practical benefits to attract their interest and resources.
  • How can we improve inter-ministerial and multi-stakeholder coordination and cooperation in policy planning? What incentives and approaches are needed for attracting different players to participate in the planning process? Stakeholders have different interests.
  • How to embed climate related DRM into mainstream planning involving finance and planning ministries?
  • What are the barriers to uptake of innovations? How do innovations need to be communicated to catch the attention of decision makers?
  • Understanding the context of leadership as this is different in different countries and situations? No one size fit all solution applies here

Caroline Spencer, CDKN Learning Programme Manager, looks ahead to tomorrow’s programme:”We now know what we need to look at, and the detailed questions that the framework needs to address. Tomorrow, there will be parallel work streams for each component of the framework, where we will be finding some of the answers from our own work.”

John Bruce Wells, COP of USAID’s LEAD Program/Asia LEDS Partnership ended the day with some positive feedback for CDKN, “this has been a really informative conversation for me, especially the discussion on co-benefits and triple wins. I am going to go back and try and see how to integrate resilience into the energy/low emissions work we are doing at USAID.”

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