Thomas Thaler, David Shively, Jacob Petersen-Perlman, Lenka Slavikova, and Thomas Hartmann
The frequency and severity of extreme weather events are expected to increase due to climate change. These developments and challenges have focused the attention of policymakers on the question of how to manage natural hazards. The main political discourse revolves around the questions of how we can make our society more resilient for possible future events. A central challenge reflects collective choices, which affect natural hazards governance, risk, and individual and societal vulnerability. In particular, transboundary river basins present difficult and challenging decisions at local, regional, national, and international levels as they involve and engage large numbers of stakeholders. Each of these groups has different perspectives and interests in how to design and organize flood risk management, which often hinder transnational collaborations in terms of upstream–downstream or different riverbed cooperation. Numerous efforts to resolve these conflicts have historically been tried across the world, particularly in relation to institutional cooperation. Consequently, greater engagement of different countries in management of natural hazards risks could decrease international conflicts and increase capacity at regional and local levels to adapt to future hazard events. Better understanding of the issues, perspectives, choices, and potential for conflict, and clear sharing of responsibilities, is crucial for reducing impacts of future events at the transboundary level.
This article considers how corruption affects the management of disaster mitigation, relief, and recovery. Corruption is a very serious and pervasive issue that affects all countries and many operations related to disasters, yet it has not been studied to the degree that it merits. This is because it is difficult to define, hard to measure and difficult to separate from other issues, such as excessive political influence and economic mismanagement. Not all corruption is illegal, and not all of that which is against the law is vigorously pursued by law enforcement. In essence, corruption subverts public resources for private gain, to the damage of the body politic and people at large. It is often associated with political violence and authoritarianism and is a highly exploitative phenomenon. Corruption knows no boundaries of social class or economic status. It tends to be greatest where there are strong juxtapositions of extreme wealth and poverty.
Corruption is intimately bound up with the armaments trade. The relationship between arms supply and humanitarian assistance and support for democracy is complex and difficult to decipher. So is the relationship between disasters and organized crime. In both cases, disasters are seen as opportunities for corruption and potentially massive gains, achieved amid the fear, suffering, and disruption of the aftermath. In humanitarian emergencies, black markets can thrive, which, although they support people by providing basic incomes, do nothing to reduce disaster risk. In counties in which the informal sector is very large, there are few, and perhaps insufficient, controls on corruption in business and economic affairs.
Corruption is a major factor in weakening efforts to bring the problem of disasters under control. The solution is to reduce its impact by ensuring that transactions connected with disasters are transparent, ethically justifiable, and in line with what the affected population wants and needs. In this respect, the phenomenon is bound up with fundamental human rights. Denial or restriction of such rights can reduce a person’s access to information and freedom to act in favor of disaster reduction. Corruption can exacerbate such situations. Yet disasters often reveal the effects of corruption, for example, in the collapse of buildings that were not built to established safety codes.
In the context of this article, risk governance addresses the ways and means—or institutional framework—to lead and manage the issue of risk related to natural phenomena, events, or hazards, also referred to popularly, although incorrectly, as “natural disasters.” At the present time, risk related to natural phenomena includes a major focus on the issue of climate change with which it is intimately connected, climate change being a major source of risk.
To lead involves mainly defining policies and proposing legislation, hence proposing goals, conducting, promoting, orienting, providing a vision—namely, reducing the loss of lives and livelihoods as part of sustainable development—also, raising awareness and educating on the topic and addressing the ethical perspective that motivates and facilitates engagement by citizens.
To manage involves, among other things, proposing organizational and technical arrangements, as well as regulations allowing the implementation of policies and legislation. Also, it involves monitoring and supervising such implementation to draw further lessons to periodically enhance the policies, legislation, regulations, and organizational and technical arrangements.
UNISDR was established in 2000 to promote and facilitate risk reduction, becoming in a few years one of the main promoters of risk governance in the world and the main global advocate from within the United Nations system. It was an honor to serve as the first director of the UNISDR (2001–2011).
A first lesson to be drawn from this experience was the need to identify, understand, and address the obstacles not allowing the implementation of what seems to be obvious to the scientific community but of difficult implementation by governments, private sector, and civil society; and alternatively, the reasons for shortcomings and weaknesses in risk governance.
A second lesson identified was that risk related to natural phenomena also provides lessons for governance related to other types of risk in society—environmental, financial, health, security, etc., each a separate and specialized topic, sharing, however, common risk governance approaches.
A third lesson was the relevance of understanding leadership and management as essential components in governance. Drawing lessons on one’s own experience is always risky as it involves some subjectivity in the analysis. In the article, the aim has, nonetheless, been at the utmost objectivity on the essential learnings in having conducted the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction—UNISDR—from 2001 to around 2009 when leading and managing was shared with another manager, as I prepared for retirement in 2011.
Additional lessons are identified, including those related to risk governance as it is academically conceived, hence, what risk governance includes and how it has been implemented by different international, regional, national, and local authorities. Secondly, I identify those lessons related to the experience of leading and managing an organization focused on disaster risk at the international level and in the context of the United Nations system.
In the Federal Republic of Germany, with its parliamentary system of democratic governance, threats posed by natural hazards are of key national relevance. Storms cause the majority of damage and are the most frequent natural hazard, the greatest economic losses are related to floods, and extreme temperatures such as heatwaves cause the greatest number of fatalities. In 2002 a New Strategy for Protecting the Population in Germany was formulated. In this context, natural hazard governance structures and configurations comprise the entirety of actors, rules and regulations, agreements, processes, and mechanisms that deal with collecting, analyzing, communicating, and managing information related to natural hazards.
The federal structure of crisis and disaster management shapes how responsible authorities coordinate and cooperate in the case of a disaster due to natural hazards. It features a vertical structure based on subsidiarity and relies heavily on volunteer work. As a state responsibility, the aversion of threats due to natural hazards encompasses planning and preparedness and the response to disaster. The states have legislative power to create related civil protection policies. The institutional and organizational frameworks and measures for disaster response can, therefore, differ between states. The coordination of state ministries takes place by activating an inter-ministerial crisis task force. District administrators or mayors bear the political responsibility for disaster management and lead local efforts that can include recovery and reconstruction measures. The operationalization of disaster management efforts on local levels follows the principle of subsidiarity, and state laws are implemented by local authorities.
Based on this structure and the related institutions and responsibilities, actors from different tiers of government interact in the case of a natural hazard incident, in particular if state or local levels of government are overwhelmed:
• states can request assistance from the federal government and its institutions;
• states can request assistance from the police forces and authorities of other states; and
• if the impact of a disaster exceeds local capacities, the next higher administrative level takes on the coordinating role.
Due to the complexity of this federated governance system, the vertical integration of governance structures is important to ensure the effective response to and management of a natural hazard incident. Crisis and disaster management across state borders merges the coordination and communication structures on the federal and state levels into an inter-state crisis management structure.
Within this governance structure, private market and civil society actors play important roles within the disaster cycle and its phases of planning and preparedness, response, and recovery/reconstruction, such as flood insurance providers, owners of critical infrastructure, volunteer organizations, and research institutions.
• critical infrastructure is a strategic federal policy area in the field of crisis management and is considered a specific protection subject, resulting in particular planning requirements and regulations;
• volunteer organizations cooperate within the vertical structure of disaster management;
• flood insurance is currently available in Germany to private customers, while coverage is considered low; and
• research on natural hazards is undertaken by public and private higher education and research institutions that can form partnerships with governmental institutions.
Thomas A. Birkland
Natural disasters pose important problems for societies and governments. Governments are charged with making policies to protect public safety. Large disasters, then, can reveal problems in government policies designed to protect the public from the effects of such disasters. Large disasters can serve as focusing events, a term used to describe large, sudden, rare, and harmful events that gain a lot of attention from the public and from policy makers. Such disasters highlight problems and, as the public policy literature suggests, open windows of opportunity for policy change. However, as a review of United States disaster policy from 1950 through 2015 shows, change in disaster policy is often, but not always, driven by major disasters that act as focusing events. But the accumulation of experience from such disasters can lead to learning, which can be useful if later, even more damaging and attention-grabbing events arise.
Recent extreme hydrological events (e.g., in the United States in 2005 or 2012, Pakistan in 2010, and Thailand in 2011) revealed increasing flood risks due to climate and societal change. Consequently, the roles of multiple stakeholders in flood risk management have transformed significantly. A central aspect here is the question of sharing responsibilities among global, national, regional, and local stakeholders in organizing flood risk management of all kinds. This new policy agenda of sharing responsibilities strives to delegate responsibilities and costs from the central government to local authorities, and from public administration to private citizens. The main reasons for this decentralization are that local authorities can deal more efficiently with public administration tasks concerned with risks and emergency management. Resulting locally based strategies for risk reduction are expected to tighten the feedback loops between complex environmental dynamics and human decision-making processes. However, there are a series of consequences to this rescaling process in flood risk management, regarding the development of new governance structures and institutions, like resilience teams or flood action groups in the United Kingdom. Additionally, downscaling to local-level tasks without additional resources is particularly challenging. This development has tightened further with fiscal and administrative cuts around the world resulting from the global economic crisis of 2007–2008, which tightening eventually causes budget restrictions for flood risk management. Managing local risks easily exceeds the technical and budgetary capacities of municipal institutions, and individual citizens struggle to carry the full responsibility of flood protection. To manage community engagement in flood risk management, emphasis should be given to the development of multi-level governance structures, so that multiple stakeholders share fairly the power, resources, and responsibility in disaster planning. If we fail to do so, some consequences would be: (1), “hollowing out” the government, including the downscaling of the responsibility towards local stakeholders; and (2), inability of the government to deal with the new tasks due to lack of resources transferred to local authorities.
In an increasingly interconnected world, the impacts of disasters and subsequent disaster relief and response operations are often no longer confined to directly affected communities, regions, or countries. Traditional geographical, sectoral, and policy-related boundaries are progressively becoming more blurred, and increasingly, there are more transboundary disasters—disasters that cross geographical, political, and functional boundaries and that affect multiple policy domains. Examples of transboundary disasters include the 2004 and 2011 tsunamis, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and the Ebola outbreak. Responses to transboundary disasters typically require the concerted efforts of various governments, intergovernmental organizations, private entities, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working together. Although NGOs have been key responders, not enough attention has been paid to their role amid the constellation of various actors responding to transboundary disasters. There are many different types of NGOs, including those that have been less visible, such as diaspora NGOs, that aid in transboundary disasters. NGO assistance in transboundary disasters assumes various forms, ranging from disaster relief in the form of medical assistance, food, water, and supplies to aid affected populations for rebuilding and reconstruction in disaster-affected areas. NGOs also play a critical role in responding to transboundary disasters by aiding displaced populations in host communities and providing an array of services—from helping find accommodations and schools to providing social support and case management services. While NGOs can be effective and trustworthy transnational players in transboundary disasters, effectively bringing in resources, their participation also has its challenges and limitations. To counter these challenges, transboundary management coordination needs to be increased, along with building capacities of transnational and local civil society organizations. The power of diaspora NGOs can also be harnessed more effectively in disaster response and recovery.