Taking a longer view of recovery in the world’s most disaster-prone region

Frank Thomalla, Michael Boyland and Karlee Johnson from SEI Asia Centre and Louis Lebel from Chiang Mai University explore the implications of short term disaster risk response, and call for longer term planning in resilience building.


Taking a longer view of recovery in the world’s most disaster-prone region

Frank Thomalla, Michael Boyland and Karlee Johnson, SEI Asia Centre; and Louis Lebel, Chiang Mai University

Much progress has been made in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation over recent decades, but the socio-economic and environmental impacts of disasters continues to rise. This is certainly true for many parts of Asia, where rapid urbanisation and an increase in climate-related risks continue to pose significant challenges to the long-term recovery of vulnerable communities following disasters.

While disasters often trigger a considerable short-term response at the national and international levels, too little attention has been paid to the longer-term recovery process. After the immediate emergency, people still have to clean, rebuild, and try to re-establish their livelihoods (or find new ones). That process may take years, and in the meantime, communities may be more vulnerable to new hazards than before the disaster. Effective long-term recovery systems are thus essential.

A new two-year project led by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Asia Centre aims to better understand how loss and damage (L&D) systems can build resilience in the 5–10 years after a disaster. The project, funded by the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN), brings together expertise from five countries in the region.

In the context of this project, L&D systems are defined as formal and informal systems that help people recover and cope with the impacts of natural hazards, including climate-related and slow-onset environmental changes, that are irreversible (loss) or which can be replaced (damage).

Recent efforts under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have helped better identify and address L&D, but it is remains a fairly new area of research, and one that requires far more attention. We need to better understand the trajectory of disaster impacts, as well as the implications of choices made in the immediate response and over the years that follow.

The project involves five case studies: the 2001 Mekong delta floods (Vietnam and Cambodia), the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (Aceh, Indonesia), the 2008 cyclone Nargis (Myanmar), and the 2011 Bangkok floods (Thailand). Along with an in-depth review of academic and stakeholder literature, our work will include field research by partners in the five countries, with detailed interviews.

Our goal is to draw lessons from the five cases for decision-makers in the respective countries, but also synthesise the findings across all five studies, to build a more comprehensive understanding of recovery in the world’s most disaster-prone region. The resulting lessons will be valuable to national and regional planners focused on DRR, adaptation, and both together. They could also inform L&D negotiations under the UNFCCC.

As the impacts of climate change and climate-related disasters are likely to increase over time, it is essential to take a longer view of DRR, and to integrate it more effectively with adaptation and development across different scales. A more holistic, resilience-oriented approach to addressing L&D will result in more effective, equitable and accountable recovery, particularly for those communities that are most vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate.

The year 2015 offers a unique opportunity to address the relationship between climate change and disaster risk, and between strategies to address them. A successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) – a 10-year global plan to address disaster risk – is being drafted at the same time as the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being formulated, and a comprehensive new agreement is being negotiated under the UNFCCC. This is a chance to integrate three key international frameworks to guide policy and action on disasters, climate change and development more effectively and coherently.


Read more about the project at http://www.sei-international.org/projects?prid=2117

And learn more about links between climate change and disaster risk reduction at http://www.sei-international.org/publications?pid=2625


Frank Thomalla is a senior research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Asia Centre in Bangkok. Louis Lebel is director of the Unit for Social and Environmental Research at Chiang Mai University, Thailand. Michael Boyland and Karlee Johnson are research assistants at SEI.