Ripples and Waves

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Tag: disaster
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Human rights in the time of disaster

Waiting for the ‘super typhoon’ Haiyan to make landfall over Vietnam after killing more than ten thousand people in the Philippines, the situation is tense. More than half a million people have been evacuated.

A year ago, Typhoon Son-Tinh brought devastation and death after it unexpectedly changed course and struck Vietnam southeast of Hanoi. The farmers I interviewed there last June had strong memories of how the weather forecast had failed to prepare them. Strong winds also led to power outages and knocked out mobile phone signals ahead of the disaster – few were therefore reached by the news in time. The farmers suffered from continued power cuts for weeks after Typhoon Son-Tinh. Among other things, this meant that many were not able to pump water from their wells, cook, or boil water before drinking it.


The human right to water and sanitation is matched by an obligation resting on the state to take positive action. Though a natural hazard may overwhelm the local response capacity, this obligation remains in times of disaster. For instance, the right entitles to access to a minimum amount of safe drinking water to sustain life and health, which corresponds to an obligation to organise temporary water treatment and distribution facilities for those affected. It also includes the right to be protected from discriminatory disaster relief based on gender, ethnicity, age or other factors, and to have one’s personal security upheld while exercising the right to access.

There are several guidelines to promote and facilitate a rights-based approach to post-disaster relief. With increasing population density and tourism in coastal areas, it would seem as if such are becoming ever-more relevant. Examples come from the Sphere Project, the Brookings Institution and the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. Guidelines issued by the Indian Housing and Land Rights Network were implemented by the Government of Odisha after the cyclone that displaced more than two million people there recently. Evacuation and rehabilitation poses challenges to governments that need to ensure that the multiple human rights and dignity of the affected population are upheld.

Governance capacity is tested after every natural hazard. When a disaster reaches the scale it did in the Philippines it is hard to hold local government agencies accountable when relief work begins. Many victims of a disaster are left to their own devices when the need for safe drinking water is desperate. And though humanitarian assistance often comes in quickly, the case of Haiti shows how weak local institutions can thwart efforts to rebuild a functioning, equitable society for many years.

Wise from last year’s experience, the farmers prepared well for Haiyan but remained worried. When it reached Vietnam the typhoon had weakened to a tropical storm. It also changed direction slightly again and made landfall further north. With only six casualties and relatively small material damages, Vietnam was lucky this time.

2013-11-19 Jenny Grönwall | Tags: Jenny Grönwall, Vietnam, climate change, disaster, Haiyan, typhoon
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Dr. Jenny Grönwall
Programme Manager
Stockholm International Water Institute


[News Stream] To Support Durable Emergency Recovery Assistance

Many natural disasters that involve calamities such as droughts, floods and earth quakes result in internationally supported recovery assistance. This is particularily true when the national efforts are unable to cope with the situation. Recovery activities that focus on food security, such as those currently found in Ethiopia, are mostly oriented and limited towards seed and tool distribution, potentially also topped up with some food assistance (The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). While such support may be appropriate and can serve to support immidiate needs and short term recovery, it rarely addresses the root causes to the crisis. It is often only a matter of time until the same population face another crisis of similar nature.

It is imperative to understand the root causes to a crisis in order to provide appropriate support. And with the modern age of access to more and better information, emergency response operations have never been better equipped to target the real, identified root causes to a crisis and thus contribute to long-term, resilience building (World Disasters Report 2010). It is also vital for post-disaster responses to strengthen and support the survivors' own organizations.
However, reality looks different. The big donor’s funding is rarely sufficient in neither amount nor flexibility. Humanitarian emergency operations are often limited to immediate needs - they rarely stretch beyond a year - and they are unable to address the many drivers that are behind a particular crisis. As an example, in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, after the 2004 tsunami, with international aid under pressure to spend and to build, many buildings were put up, but when construction was finished and aid agencies withdrew, communities were left with no source of income, no social cohesion and little support for the future.  

If adequate time is spent to analyse and understand the root causes to e.g. a lack of food, in particular when it is related to droughts and climate change, improved land, water and nutrient management can be addressed. Water availability is key for a stable production and in turn also a prerequisite to encourage further investments in the production. But that requires farming systems that are water efficient, productive and resilient. To reduce the risk in farming is key to sucess.

Looking into the future, the funding time-frames to humanitarian emergencies must be extended. That will allow for a proper analysis of the root causes of a crisis and to take a broader, long-term problem solving approach to the crisis, as opposed to today’s short-term, sectorial and segmented response (Department of Cooperative Governance, RSA; UNICEF). There is also a need to coordinate inbetween the different donor organisations – there were at lest some 45 different organisations providing emergency assitance to the Horn of Africa crisis last year, many focusing on water-related support (The Nightly News, 26 September 2011). It is highly questionable if this is the most appropriate approach to address a complex, partly drought-driven crisis.

by Dr Patrick Fox


2012-03-12 Patrick Fox | Tags: News Stream, disaster, food security, resilience, crisis, Patrick Fox
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Dr Patrick Fox
Disaster unit,
Swedish Red Cross


[News Stream] After the disaster / Klas Sandström

The Horn of Africa 2011 drought disaster - labeled by many agencies, as one of the most serious drought disasters in modern time - continues to unfold. Yet now, the appearance of the disaster has changed. With the recent rains that commenced early December ago, the drought has ended, but the crisis prevails. In some regions, notably in Kenya, the rains are furthermore the worst that some communities have experienced in 20 years.

While the scale of the drought could not be known, it was predicted more than a year earlier, October 2010, with first and foremost the anticipated impact from the La Nina. So while enough time was given to alert the response mechanisms put in place, the information spurred limited action with a traditional emergency scenario emerging as a consequence.
As the immediate effects of the drought have now come to an end, its full impact is yet to be calculated. It is meanwhile remarkable that relevant to the scale and depth of the drought, mortality levels were kept very modest. Yet, hundreds of thousands of people people have had to live well below subsistence levels, with severe levels of acute malnutrition as evidence of the severity of the situation. It is further known that large numbers in livestock have perished, in some areas more than fifty percent, and crops have failed across large areas, resulting in that it will take at least six months of support for agriculturalists to return to pre-disaster levels, and multiple years for pastoralists to achieve the same (IFRC, 2011).

It is hoped that the aftermath of the disaster will amongst other generate much discussion on:

  1. that scale of disasers is not mesured in levels of morbidity but quality of living
  2. Early Warning messages is better made use of
  3. climate change adaptation is a continued part of the agricultural dialogue to secure livelihoods and
  4. the approach to rural and agricultural development is aligned with sustainability and endurance of livelihood systems as a means to protect and save lives.

The latter in light of the last decades where attention has shifted away from agriculture among various large actors. For instance, The World Bank lent 26 and 10 percent respectively during the 1980's and 2000 to agriculture from its total budget (Millstone and Lang, 2003).


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Klas Sandström
Dr Klas Sandström
Programme Manager
Senior Water & Environment Specialist
Ramboll Natura