We must invest more resources before the disasters

The earthquakes in Nepal and their tragic consequences were unfortunately no surprise to us who work with disasters. Now we need assistance that invests resources to a much greater extent than today within a disaster. Aid that reduces risks, saves lives and saves money, writes the Red Cross.

We who work with humanitarian efforts and disaster risk reduction have all waited and feared that the earthquakes in Nepal would come. It has never been an issue om outside When the next earthquake is to take place, and with what strength. And how big the consequences would be.

In recent years, a large number of studies have been conducted in Nepal that have been about mapping the need to strengthen Nepal's own capacity to handle an impending earthquake. We know that the number of fatalities and damage to infrastructure is determined by how we succeed in reducing risks and strengthening local disaster preparedness. Nepal is one of the world's most vulnerable places due to its poverty, population density, lack of infrastructure and inaccessible environment.

Nothing unique to Nepal

Unfortunately, the lack of preparedness for earthquakes in Nepal is not unique. In many parts of the world, we know that the risks of disaster are great. At the same time, the capacity to prevent disasters and the preparedness to deal with them is limited.

Aid, with poverty reduction as its main goal, focuses too little on risk thinking. We last saw this in West Africa when the Ebola epidemic spread, largely due to a lack of infrastructure for health care and disaster preparedness.

In the case of Nepal, we can state that the Kathmandu Valley with its 2,5 million inhabitants must be partly built from the ground up. But it is important that we adapt attitude and working methods to the current context and culture. This means that donors and we as an aid organization must have knowledge of people's culture, perceptions and attitudes in relation to risk and take it seriously.

It is not about rejecting local beliefs and traditions, it is about taking them into account when building preparedness. When many Nepalese whose houses have not collapsed are now arguing that sustainability is sufficient even if even more earthquakes were to occur, it is important to have a dialogue with them in an open and constructive way.

Would save on prevention

According to statistics, globally, five times as much is invested in reconstruction as in risk reduction. At the same time, every krona invested in preventing eight kronor from being saved at the other end.

But it is not just the statistics that speak for themselves. There is knowledge, experience and many good examples that show that investments in local disaster preparedness and risk reduction pay off.

This can be done, for example, through training of local civil society and the rescue service, through the establishment of contingency plans, through strengthened infrastructure and through crisis exercises. In this way, crisis management can be improved and more lives saved.

We already know today that most lives saved in disasters survive due to the efforts of neighbors and the local community. At the same time, these could do so much more with simple methods and with access to tools and personal protective equipment.

The Red Cross has for a long time worked with the local community in Bangladesh, for example. There we have helped raise wells, which provides access to clean water during floods. We have designed a mechanism for early warnings at the village level and trained the local community in first aid and in building techniques that make houses more resilient to disasters. Many more players could do more, but resources are often lacking.

New global framework

Recently, the world states, the UN, the Red Cross movement, civil society and private companies gathered in Sendai, Japan, to agree on a new global framework to reduce the risks of future disasters. The new framework is good, it creates the conditions for better disaster preparedness and for strengthening societies' resilience to disasters.

The new framework emphasizes that there is a great need for coordination and for the inclusion of all stakeholders; the state, business, the local community and global actors. The mandate of the Red Cross is strengthened and we are singled out as an important player in ensuring the implementation of the decisions.

Risk reduction must permeate all work and all sectors that contribute to strengthening societies' resilience. The aim must be to curb the underlying causes of vulnerability. Resources must be set aside for so-called "build back better", ie reconstruction that seriously reduces the risk of future disasters.

Must be in place before the disaster

We want to see aid that is resource efficient and sustainable. Sweden now has a unique opportunity to be a world leader in disaster risk reduction. We need assistance that is not about gaining political and media points in the form of being in place only after that the disaster occurred.

We need assistance that is in place to a much greater extent than today within a disaster that reduces risks, strengthens local capacity, mitigates the effects of disaster, saves lives and saves money. It is aid that links risk reduction, climate and development to achieve long-term and decisive results. This is how Swedish development assistance can make a difference for the world's most vulnerable and poor.

Ylva J Strömberg, Leif Jönsson and Marielle Pettersson, Red Cross

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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