By Peter Makwanya
DESPITE significant knowledge of disaster risks in many developing countries, there are still many challenges and communication roadblocks with regard to developing community resilience and adaptive capacities to long term climate change. Many countries are still caught unaware and always hit hard as if they have never heard of these phenomena. Unfolding events in southern Africa are threatening to make the region a hotspot of disaster risks and it is a major cause for concern for future development scenarios.
In many countries, there are still weak linkages between institutional arrangements, local authorities and stakeholders as beneficiaries of such critical and vital information who need to be empowered. In this case, roles and responsibilities between national, local governments and communities are still not clear.
This means that, networking for disaster preparedness in terms of information dissemination, engagements and training still pose information gaps that seriously need to be overcome.
Of course, these disasters cannot be avoided, but networking and empowering communities should be ongoing rather than event-based because when disasters strike, there would not be any opportunities for fine-tuning standard operating procedures to avoid confusing and frustrating scenarios.
Local communities, as important stakeholders invest their trust and understanding in their governments to do better in terms of high levels of awareness and networking required. There need to be a closely knit and strong working relationships among local communities, community leaders and government officials and civil society organisations demonstrating clear roles and responsibilities, tailored for the needs of vulnerable communities and households.
Disaster preparedness and response strategies need to complement each other not in isolation, but with climate change impacts in mind. Preparedness is paramount in order to avoid failing to plan, or planning to fail scenarios.
Disasters continue to pose dangers and negative impacts to community livelihood options hence they need to be communicated situationally as per context in order to reinforce local best practices and remedies. Issues of context in community-based adaptation approaches are key and paramount. Due to the potential and increase in frequency of emerging disasters in southern Africa, as a result of adverse trends of natural hazards and climate change, urgency is needed in awareness raising of disaster risks at all levels. Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and recently South Africa have been at the receiving end of natural disasters, leading to large scale losses and damage to infrastructure, property and loss of human lives and livelihood. These countries are walking a tight rope and the current and past emerging disaster events are a wake-up call that requires proactive efforts nationally and sub regionally.
Community-based awareness raising and community-based disaster-risk management highly-influence each other, hence they should be handled in isolation, but as complementary. People always view disasters in terms of their occurrence or eruption without mapping disasters in terms of pre during and aftermaths, which should be necessary for resilient building and preparedness.
Awareness raising should be in the form of education and skills training for government officials, at all levels and local communities, using a wide range of disaster tools like risk mapping, community level early warning systems, community planning and engagements for disasters responses and participation, among others. This should also include the inclusion and communicating the local language of knowing, which is indigenous knowledge systems, at all levels, which is vital, transformative, cost effective, people centred and user-friendly.
In this regard, the idea is to strengthen and build community initiatives in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Therefore, the desired outcomes would need to include the nature of implementation guidelines, coming up with disaster risks and climate change adaptation training materials because knowledge and information is power.
Context specific training materials for communities and villages are vital as disasters vary in terms of areas with regard to soil types, terrain, water bodies, vegetation and physical landscapes. Context is also significant in the sense that disaster risks and climate change adaptation are incorporated and driven by local level risks assessment and planning.
In this regard, disaster risk management literature is not in public domains and people as stakeholders and beneficiaries cannot be sufficiently empowered.
Within relevant communities, there should be members who have been trained to train their peers, from national to sub national levels in cross cutting ways. Under these scenarios, awareness of government officials at provincial and lower levels is paramount as a matter of mainstreaming disaster risk reductions into government programmes. Training of working groups should be visible on the ground to network and orient stakeholders, including participating in monitoring and evaluations as forms of quality controlling systems because quality is everything and key to resilience building.
As communities are hot beds of disasters, it is significant that consultative meetings are held regularly as ways of sharing disaster risk reduction best practices. At national level, there is need for authorities to engage in holistic approaches to disaster risk reduction and resilience building through the construction of large scale community based infrastructure like dykes or residential clusters. These are required through participation of local people in decision making processes.
Local people should not be left out and their disaster risks concerns should not be imagined as they are always on the frontline of the negative impacts of natural disasters like floods, cyclones, strong winds or heavy rains including droughts.
Local communities also need to have their voices heard. Therefore, there should the community level committees on disaster risk management.
Everyone is needed and is a stakeholder hence, collective and collaborative efforts are needed. This is important in providing new ways that would generate knowledge and skills aimed at making use of the best natural resources management strategies possible.
There is need for stakeholders to come up with partnerships with organisations to do community level research, designed to better understand adaptive capacities and disaster management tools to ensure that national and local level planning processes consider the need create positive environment based on sound adaptive strategies. Therefore, all disaster risk interventions should not always be by design, but resilient towards climate change.
- Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on: email@example.com