Satellites See Typhoon Bopha Heading Toward the Philippines. Photo: NASA / Flickr
The reports that reached us from the Philippines after the typhoon struck, and particularly from the city of Tacloban, presented an image of massive devastation: palm trees torn up at the root, buildings in ruins, families who had lost everything. But it could have been worse. This may seem like an absurd thing to say in this context. Haiyan was an enormous human disaster that also caused great economic losses. But with the experience of the tsunami in South-East Asia and the earthquake in Haiti under our belts, it is clear that the international community and humanitarian actors have learned lessons.
In the Philippines, it was a case of disaster risk reduction efforts undertaken before the typhoon. The Philippines have integrated disaster risk reduction into their development planning and invested heavily in this area. Without these measures, the losses would have been even greater.
It is also a matter of ‘building back better’. As this will unfortunately not be the last time serious adverse weather conditions hit the area, the process of reconstruction in the Philippines has incorporated resilience to future storms. This involves reconstructing buildings such as housing and health clinics to withstand extreme winds and increasing knowledge of disaster prevention ahead of the next typhoon.
Unfortunately, we face a scenario in which the number of climate-related disasters such as floods and tropical cyclones is on the increase. In 2013 alone there were reports of more than 300 natural disasters, causing 22 000 deaths and affecting 97 million people. Surrounded by the debris of a disaster it is difficult to look forward, but every time a major international operation is required, we learn something from it. One such important lesson is that it is possible to reduce the impact of natural disasters. By committing to work more on prevention, Sweden can contribute to reducing vulnerability to future natural disasters. Over the last year, Sweden and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) have focused development cooperation more on building people’s resilience in areas at high risk of disasters.
In recent years, only around four per cent of global aid has gone to disaster reduction. Much of this has been taken from budgets for humanitarian work. Sweden and Sida have recently integrated a disaster prevention perspective into humanitarian aid. This means that Sida supports measures to strengthen the global disaster risk reduction system, and that several of Sida’s humanitarian partner organisations integrate disaster prevention measures to reduce risk and help people and communities to recover more quickly and be more resilient in the future.
Sadly, we know that natural disasters have destroyed around one third of development gains over the last 20 years. There is therefore a strong link between natural disasters and development cooperation. Now Sweden is committing more and more to preventing disasters and eliminating risk where possible. This also involves integrating risk reduction into long-term development cooperation.
The introduction of the term ‘resilience’ in aid has in turn increased the focus on risk reduction and resilience in development cooperation. Resilience will be an integral part of Sweden’s future development cooperation with countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
By fostering synergies between humanitarian aid and development cooperation, we can achieve more effective and sustainable aid. We will take these lessons and experiences with us to the third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which began on Saturday in Sendai, Japan and aims to produce an international framework for disaster risk reduction for the next 15-year period.
Peter Lundberg, head of Sida’s Department for Humanitarian Assistance