Building National Capacities for Disaster Risk Reduction and Preparedness – Opportunity for SSR?

by Viola Csordas · July 5th, 2019.

With non-permanent members such as Germany increasingly pushing for the UN Security Council to recognize climate change as a security risk, the question springs to mind if there were potentially important linkages to create synergies between disaster risk reduction (DRR), and security and justice governance reform programming (SSG/R). Are there unexplored entry points which might result in increased and holistic resilience and the development of people-centered strategies to prevent where possible, and where necessary to help societies to better cope with the unavoidable consequences of disasters and conflict?

Both DRR strategies and SSG/R aim at preventing and reducing the impact of critical incidents by increasing preparedness and resilience. Whether they are caused by biological, environmental, geological, hydrometeorological and technological hazards in the case of DRR, and by violent conflict and dysfunctional security institutions in the case of SSG/R, the consequences and impact of disaster and conflict disproportionally affect people in fragile contexts and perpetuate cycles of poverty. For instance, in countries affected by repeated cycles of violence poverty rates are 20 percent higher and disasters push an estimated 26 million people into poverty each year. Thus, SSG/R and DRR both play an important role in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Although not explicitly included in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the conflict and security dimension of DRR is well-established and anchored in the OECD-DAC States of Fragility. However, discussions on the link between disaster risk reduction and security have primarily focused on how reducing disaster impact can contribute to the prevention of political destabilization and conflict.

Given the crucial role of the security sector in the management and implementation of the national disaster risk reduction strategies that are being developed under Target E of the Sendai Framework, it is worth exploring additional potential synergies between DRR, on the one hand, and security and justice reform programming, on the other. Building on the hypothesis that grievances vis-à-vis the security sector are among of the most pertinent drivers of conflict and violent extremism (see e. g. Pathways for Peace), an increased role for national security sectors in DRR could present entry points for making states and their security sectors more people-centric; at the same time, these might promote legitimate stability.

While the majority of constitutions mandate the armed forces with civil protection, ideally, the overall management of DRR lies with a high political authority, such as the Prime Minister’s office, and is managed through a multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral DRR coordination mechanism. However, in practice, especially in “high risk – low capacity” fragile contexts, the security sector often has the highest level of organization, resources and capacities, and therefore in practice plays a crucial role in national disaster preparedness strategies. In these contexts of fragility, there seem several options that could be further explored:

  1. Programmes to improve or to add to the existing capacity of the security sector for disaster risk preparedness and response could be explicitly designed with the aim of improving its governance and make the security sector more of an instrument for citizens’ security. This could be achieved by including human rights principles and a gender perspective in the design of training courses, and by emphasizing accountability and transparency in all capacity building programmes.
  2. The disaster risk assessments could be done in a participatory and inclusive way that brings together citizens and the security sector, aiming to take into account peoples’ security needs holistically beyond environmental, biological and technical threats. The integration of political stability and social cohesion into national risk assessment methodologies also promotes a greater involvement of the security sector and its analytical capabilities in the service the security of citizens.
  3. Similarly, joint planning and scenario training exercises could be designed in a way to simultaneously serve as confidence building measures between the security sector, reservists, civil defense volunteers and civil society organisations engaged in preparedness activities. For instance, this could be achieved with the help of methodologies for conflict resolution for instigating attitudinal and behavioural change, such as dialogue and joint problem solving. Adding a gender perspective would ensure that the special needs of women are sufficiently taken into account in disaster response and heard by the security forces. These activities also hold the potential to contribute to the reconstruction of social cohesion in the aftermath of civil conflict, which would strengthen post-conflict reconciliation, and help to rebuild trust after human rights violations by a predatory security sector.
  4. To counter-balance the often-ballooning security budgets in fragile states, programmes aiming at downsizing and at the reintegration into civilian life, could work with civil protection agencies to create jobs for demobilized personnel there. Given the greater openness of donors to provide support and funding for DRR, this would on the one hand create sustainable livelihoods, and simultaneously decrease security sector spending and utilize the experience of the reintegrated officers, e. g. in the area of logistics.
  5. Last but not least, in terms of external control and access to justice, security and justice programming could support the development and operationalization of complaints and litigation mechanisms. A good example in this regard is the European Court for Human Rights case law obligations incumbent upon states under the European Convention on Human Rights, which extends the protection of the life to right to due diligence in DRR measures.

Naturally, all activities that increase the role of the security sector in the field of DRR measures in fragile contexts would require strict adherence to the principle of balancing effectiveness and accountability, a conflict sensitive approach, screening in the aftermath of any human rights violations, as well as careful regulations. There are numerous examples for regulating the operations of (mainly) foreign military assets in humanitarian emergencies , such as the Oslo Guidelines on the Use of Foreign Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief, the UNHCR Recommended Practices for Effective Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination of Foreign Military Assets (FMA) in Natural and Man-Made Disasters or the IOM-NATO MoU.

If managed in a responsible way adhering to good practices, linking security and justice reform programming to DRR efforts might help place people’s security needs at the centre. Such an approach could have the potential to promote building of resilience holistically, increase social cohesion, and ultimately contribute to state legitimacy.

Read more about ISSAT's work on Disaster Risk Reduction here


Herve Auffret
8 Jul 2019, 13:49:20

Thank you, Viola, for sharing these very interesting thoughts. Obviously, it is a new area that should be explored further with additional researches to consolidate the ideas building on examples and good practices.From my perspective and as you write, in fragile States, the defence and armed forces are often the last remaining institution with capacities. This leads the military to be called for many reasons, dealing with defence and security issues but also for any other reasons requiring an urgent intervention (firefighting for instance). There are consequences to this reality. The first: in fragile environment, the military is seen by the population as the only available "public service" and is therefore called systematically. The second: the military get used to be the only one to intervene. They feel indispensable and have an important influence on the politicians and decision makers. This leads to a frequent monopoly over the scarce resources and capacities. We face a similar problem when SSR approaches would promote the development of police capacities. Such police entities often struggle to exist.As a result, this situation creates an unbalance in all emergency responses. It is almost impossible for civilian services to emerge and take over some of these emergency responsibilities and functions. Exploring how SSR approaches can support Disaster risk reduction (DRR) is therefore an interesting question that should be further explore. You highlight some very interesting points. But we need to be careful to avoid that SSR processes bring again the military on the front line for DRR. This would likely hijack the specificity of DRR by reinforcing a form of militarisation of emergency responses when a proper promotion of civilian capacities would be a more appropriate answer from a governance and democratic control perspective.

Caecilia Johanna van Peski
5 Jul 2019, 17:24:46

The emphasis on disaster risk reduction has emerged from the need to identify principles and measures to protect development gains from shocks and stresses. Owing to this need, resilience has become part of the agenda of the majority of stakeholder concerned with disaster risk reduction, may it be financial, political, or climate related. Within the spectrum, one particular situation arises when disaster risk reduction is addressed in terms of conflict and insecurity. It is particularly in this perspective that the link to Security Sector Governance and Reform is apparent. The strong link leaves resilience programming in SSR a strong instrument in effective response to shocks and stresses, both in terms of prevention as in terms of long-term downturn of risk.