A growing number of civil society actors across the African continent are in the forefront of disaster risk reduction (DRR) engagements that span service delivery, humanitarian response, community mobilization, capacity building, and policy advocacy. Their roles include valorization of local knowledge and harnessing pressure for transformative change. All of this contributes to natural hazard governance. In contrast to early post-colonial dominance by central governments, natural hazard governance across the continent has gradually been dispersed downward to local institutions and outward to civil society. A series of factors has shaped African civil society and its engagement with DRR-related activities since the 2000s, including heavy debt burdens, neoliberal market reforms, the formation of substantial national NGO sectors out of diverse social movements, and the growth of international humanitarian networks with substantial African presence. Although country- and region-specific political dynamics have created different pathways for civil society engagement with DRR, macro forces have produced strong overarching similarities in state–civil society interaction, particularly with regard to the shrinking of the state and a movement toward technical approaches in DRR. Common pressures of debt, violent conflict, megaproject investment, corruption, and the “natural resource curse” have inflected state–non-state relations because some civil society organizations in all regions have had to become advocates of “another development” and critics of business-as-usual. Within such limitations, practitioners have much to learn from best practices of a diverse set of organizations that span the continent.
Thomas Smucker, Maingi Solomon, and Benjamin Wisner
Jonatan A. Lassa
The collaborative disaster risk governance framework promises better collaboration between governments, the private sector, civil society, academia, and communities at risks. In the context of modern disaster risk reduction systems, the key triadic institutions, namely government (state), the private sector (business/market), and NGOs (civil society), have been gradually transforming their ecosystem to utilize more proactive disaster response strategies, equipped with professional staff and technical experts and armed with social and humanitarian imperatives to reduce the risks of disasters. While the roles of governments and public actions have received greater attention in disaster and emergency management studies, recent shifts in attention to promote bolder engagements of both non-governmental organizations and business communities in risk reduction can be seen as a necessary condition for the future resilience of society. Historically speaking, NGOs have exercised models of moral imperative whereby they build their relevancy and legitimacy to address gaps and problems at global and local levels. NGOs have been part of the global disaster risk reduction (DRR) ecosystem as they continue to shape both humanitarian emergencies action and the DRR agenda at different levels where their presence is needed and valued and their contribution is uniquely recognized. This article exemplifies the roles of NGOs at different levels and arenas ranging from local to international disaster risk reduction during the last 70 years, especially since World War II. It also provides examples of potential roles of NGOs under the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2030.
Terry Gibson and Benjamin Wisner
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play important roles in that they: strengthen natural hazard governance through service delivery and humanitarian response; mobilize local actors and work for advocacy, knowledge access, and integration; promote disaster risk reduction (DRR), development, and climate change adaptation (CCA) perspectives; and facilitate calls for transformative approaches. Some roles are best undertaken by large international and national NGOs (INGOs and NNGOs) and some are the province of smaller local NGOs (LNGOs). The sector as a whole plays a vital role by both challenging actors and bridge-building among them, as well as by modeling innovative practice, highlighting changing risk drivers, and engaging in policy advocacy. However, the growth of the sector has brought about challenges. The potential of NGOs is reduced by the constraints attached to much institutional funding, pressure for upward rather than downward accountability, and limited engagement by large INGOs and NNGOs with LNGOs and local people. Initiatives such as the Grand Bargain, emerging from the World Humanitarian Summit, seek to refashion and rebalance the sector. If NGOs, particularly the larger and more established organizations, prove able to address such challenges then the ability of the whole sector to support transformative change will be strengthened.
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.
Benjamin Wisner, Alonso Brenes, and Victor Marchezini
International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and national NGOs (NNGOs) attempt to play many roles in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and governance of natural hazards. Although in this part of the world, disaster risk management has conventionally been the domain of government and military, a number of factors have favored engagement by civil society actors. These factors include increasing budget pressure on governments, in part due to a shift of donor finance from LAC to Africa, that predisposes them to sharing the cost of DRR. Another factor is the growing consensus worldwide that DRR must include proactive preparedness and vulnerability reduction and not simply emergency response. Besides their more recent entry into humanitarian action, civil society actors work in other roles that assist comprehensive, prospective-preventive DRR. These roles include community and local mobilization and bridging between governments and citizens. As advocates, especially in alliance with academia, they attempt to influence national government policy. Some civil society organizations also campaign on issues of malgovernance including corruption that reduce the effectiveness of DRR initiatives. NNGOs also attempt to introduce risk-bearers’ voices, knowledge, and institutional memory to policymakers. They may also help to introduce innovative local governance practices, in particular attempting to link DRR, climate change adaptation (CCA), and development service delivery. Civil society work may show the use of innovative methods and model with pilot projects the integration of DRR, CCA, and enhancement of livelihoods Civil society organizations also contribute to societal transformation through their actions to support transparency, democracy, and distributive and restorative justice.