Transforming development and disaster risk

Development is vital for reducing disaster risk, yet current unsustainable development models are driving and creating disaster risks, for example, in the removal of natural storm-surge protection barriers including mangrove forests in favour of aquaculture farms or beachfront properties. At the same time, disasters can destroy development gains, but existing disaster risk reduction (DRR) approaches are not sufficiently contributing to sustainable development. Transformation is increasingly understood and considered as a legitimate and necessary pathway for moving from current development patterns that increase, create or unfairly distribute risks, towards more equitable, resilient and sustainable development.

TDDR considers transformation as the altering of fundamental attributes of linked development-DRR systems, primarily through challenging existing governance arrangements, institutions, power paradigms, social values, and techno-centric practices. Transformation is increasingly seen as necessary because the macro-level status quo is not sufficiently equipped to address the environment and development, and climate and disaster risk challenges facing the planet. Initiating and facilitating transformative processes requires adaptive governance, learning, innovation, and leadership.

Since 2015, the SEI Initiative on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk (TDDR) has been working to advance scientific knowledge and support policy and practice to enact transformations towards more equitable, resilient and sustainable societies. TDDR develops, refines and communicates insights and approaches on how to transform the relationship between development and disaster risk, from one where risks are socially and politically created within development processes, to one where sustainable development and DRR work in unison to address the root causes of risk. Our focus on transformation highlights the need for systemic change to social systems that create and perpetuate risk, and lead to socially unjust and unsustainable development outcomes.

The central goal of TDDR is aligned with both the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction; two major international frameworks adopted in 2015. Our work is also motivated by the 2012 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX), the 2015 Global Assessment Report on DRR which called for transformative practices to manage risks inside development, and the recent 2018 UN high-level political forum which had the theme ‘transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies’.

In exploring these concepts and themes, we have developed and framed principles and approaches to support our vision of transforming development and disaster risk. We identify trade-offs in decision-making, equitable resilience, and adaptive governance as approaches with transformative potential within the TDDR framework, shown below. We have tested these approaches in post-disaster recovery contexts in Tacloban, Philippines following Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, and in flood affected and climate vulnerable Bangladesh.

We have developed and tested a typology framework of trade-offs that can be used to expose the risks and benefits of decisions related to development and DRR, specifically interrogating participation, equity, timescale, risks, and aggregate dimensions of trade-offs. Our work on equitable resilience has also conceptualized and empirically tested the transformative potential of subjecting resilience to equity considerations to expose how levers of power define different outcomes. We have also identified how adaptive governance can lead to transformative outcomes for DRR by looking at the components of the Sendai Framework.

A conceptual framework of three opportunities for transforming the relationship between development and disaster risk.
A conceptual framework of three opportunities for transforming the relationship between development and disaster risk. Download this image (JPG, 3MB)

A short video on the TDDR conceptual framework and approaches. Video: SEI / YouTube.

International Centre of Excellence on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk

In recognition of our work, the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR) programme – a decade-long research programme co-sponsored by the International Science Council (ISC) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) – endorsed SEI as the host of the International Centre of Excellence on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk (ICoE-TDDR). ICoE-TDDR seeks to integrate development and DRR through combined approaches and action in scientific research, policy engagement and capacity development.

One way that we intend to do this is by providing a platform for co-creating new knowledge on transformation, together with, and in direct support of, development and DRR policy and practice institutions and initiatives. Within SEI, for example, we offer a framework in support of projects to explore the relevance and necessity for transformation, such as the Disability and disasters: Empowering people and building resilience to risk project, the equitable resilience in local institutions (ERLI) project, and the Building Resilience through Inclusive and Climate-Adaptive Disaster Risk Reduction in Asia-Pacific (BRDR) programme.

ICoE-TDDR is also continuing the work of the SEI Initiative by providing scientific knowledge in support of global, regional and national policy processes, as strongly emphasized in the Sendai Framework. At the global level, this includes the UNISDR Science and Technology Advisory Group (STAG) and IRDR. At the regional level, in Southeast Asia, we seek to support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM) and the implementation of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) work programme, in addition to the UNISDR Asia Science Technology and Academia Advisory Group (ASTAAG). ASTAAG provides policy advisory services to governments and other stakeholders on appropriate technology and its application in decision-making in the region. In Eastern Africa, we aim to work with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Secretariat to achieve endorsement and formal recognition as a formal research and dialogue partner. These relationships will offer strategic opportunities for TDDR to pursue a transformative agenda in development and disaster risk.

In October 2018, the TDDR in Asia Forum – co-hosted by the ICoE-TDDR, SEI, Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) and Chulalongkorn University, Thailand – is bringing together key stakeholders in science, policy and practice. Researchers, decision-makers, practitioners and students working on development and DRR in Asia will identify priorities and explore opportunities for transformation in Asia at local, national and regional scales. Sessions will focus on key sustainable development concerns in Asia: urban governance, livelihoods, water resources management, and gender and social equality.

Our work to date has shown that transformation is key to moving away from current development patterns that increase or create risks and inequalities to forms of development that are equitable and resilient. The Centre of Excellence will serve as a platform and a hub of knowledge and policy engagement on transforming development and disaster risk to deepen our work with key partners at global, regional, national and local levels.

earthquake Nepal Basantapur Durbar Square April 2015

Basantapur Durbar Square in Nepal after the devastating earthquake in April 12, 2015. Photo: Kiran1994 / Wikimedia Commons.