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USJI Voice Vol.7

Multinational Cooperation in International Disaster Risk Reduction

April 28,2015
Kyoto University

Disaster Risk Inherent to Development

The 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction was held March 14−18, 2015 in Sendai City. It was on par with a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly where global leaders from more than 20 countries come from all over the world. At this meeting the “Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction”(*1) was adopted as a framework for global disaster risk reduction efforts over the next 15 years. Ever since the U.N. announced an International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction starting in 1990, Japan’s contributions in this area have been significant, as evidenced by the fact that all three UN World Conferences on Disaster Risk Reduction have been held in the country: the first in 1994 in Yokohama City and the second in 2005 in Kobe City.

During this period, research into disaster management has progressed at an enthusiastic pace, not only in the natural sciences and engineering but also in the social sciences as well. As it turns out, despite a slight downward trend in human mortality over the past 20 years, the costs incurred by, and the likelihood of experiencing losses in social functioning as a result of, disasters continue to rise unabated in developed and developing nations alike. Furthermore, the impact of a major natural disaster is not limited to the immediate damage it causes; it can leave people deprived of secure access to water, food, energy and other necessities, thereby putting people’s health, hygiene and living environment at risk. The globalization of socioeconomic activity means that local risks pose a threat to global sustainable development.

Underlying this is the fact that an expansion in human activity is exceeding the pace of disaster management efforts thus amplifying hazardous effects. Countries and economies all over the world are actively engaged in economic activity aimed at achieving sustainable development. At the same time, however, development activity which includes unregulated urban development, environmental destruction and an expansion in poverty and economic inequality is taking place and revealing the weak governance which permits such things to occur. A side effect of these unsustainable development is the occurrence of natural disasters, climate change and financial crises. In other words, natural disasters are one of the inherent risks involved in development. This thinking is at the foundation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Natural Disaster Management Cycle

The “disaster management cycle” is the essential framework used in thinking about natural disasters. There are four stages to this cycle: Mitigation and Prevention, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery. Mitigation and prevention and preparedness are the stages to be addressed in times of non-emergency. While the aim of the former is to prevent the occurrence of damages, that of the latter is the preparation so that when the post-disaster stages are required, the damage will be minimal and recovery will be speedy. An easy way to think of it is how firefighting is divided between fire prevention and fire extinguishing. Response and recovery are viewed as chronologically post-damage stages. Within the disaster management cycle, response and recovery serve as the basis for lessons learned and applied to mitigation, prevention and preparedness for future natural disasters.

When we think of natural disasters as a side-effect resulting from the risks inherent to development, we see from the disaster management cycle that there are three types of activity which are needed. The first is to prevent future risk. The second is to mitigate existing risk. The third is to strengthen the ability to recover from a natural disaster when it strikes. What is of particular importance in the prevention of future risk is taking steps now to address the effects of the global warming and sea level rise clearly shown by the IPCC5 as being brought about by climate change. For the second necessary activity, that of mitigating existing risk, a posture of “multiple safeguards” is to be adopted, whereby the disaster management efforts thus far focused on “hard” infrastructure are complemented by prevention efforts addressing “soft” infrastructure. As for the third necessary activity, strengthening the ability to recover from a natural disaster, standardization of disaster responses which allow for cooperation amongst related organizations is to be promoted.

International Disaster Collaboration for the Great East Japan Earthquake

International disaster collaboration should be possible, and is desirable, at every stage of the disaster management cycle. However, the aspect of international disaster collaboration which gets the most attention is the facilitation of a rapid disaster response immediately after a disaster strikes. There are three major forms of emergency support at this stage: dispatch of human resources, provision of donation in kind and provision of financial donations. Japan has been one of the major countries providing emergency support and relief to those countries and regions affected by natural disasters around the world. However, after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in 2011, Japan became an active recipient of support and aid from other countries. Let us look at a summary of the international support and relief received by Japan in the immediate aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, support was offered from 163 countries and economies and from 43 international organizations (*2). With regard to the dispatch of human resources, 24 countries and economies sent special teams to help urban search and rescue for missing people, medical teams or recovery support teams. Amongst international organizations, a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team, a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNOCHA) team, a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) team, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts and a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) team were dispatched to Japan. Of particular note was the large-scale support provided by the United States military in Japan, including more than 20,000 people, around 20 ships and some 160 aircraft, as part of “Operation Tomodachi.”

With regard to the provision of relief supplies, a variety of material aid was provided from 64 countries, economies and international organizations. These supplies included such things as blankets, food, water and fuel: all items needed for cold weather in March in northeastern Japan in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Looking at the content of the relief supplies provided by the United States, which was the largest contributor of aid, shows that USAID (the United States Agency for International Development) gave sleeping bags, simple beds, oil stoves, kerosene and other emergency supplies as well as 10,000 radiation protection suits. The United States military distributed roughly 280 tons of food, 7.7 million liters of water and around 45,000 liters of fuel (approximately 3,100 tons of cargo); two fire engines; five pumps; 99 HAZMAT suits; around nine tons of boron; one large-scale water discharge pump; two barge-fulls of fresh water; two barges; and three germanium semiconductor detectors. The United States Department of Defense provided 31,000 radiation dosage assessment devices. The State of Illinois donated 2,000 individual radiation dosage assessment devices, while a variety of other groups and organizations provided other material support. What made these emergency supplies different from normal supplies was the inclusion of supplies intended to help respond to radioactive contamination stemming from the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Some of the more interesting supplies included 100,000 tons of pasta from Italy and 123 soccer balls from Bahrain, reflecting something of the donor countries’ character.

Financial donations totaling more than 17.5 billion yen were received from 95 countries, territories and international organizations.

The aid provided in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake was essentially bi-lateral in nature, involving an aid provider and an aid recipient. This suggests that for aid to be effective, the recipient needs to have robust coordination capacity. In order to ensure aid from diverse sources meets the needs of affected areas and is delivered at an appropriate time without losses, delays or redundancy in content, it is essential that the conditions on the ground in the affected area be accurately assessed in real-time. In the case of Japan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assumes the coordination role in international disaster collaboration. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is able to consolidate the various offers of support; however, they presumably do not have the capacity to assess the need situation in the affected areas. This information must be provided to the Ministry by the Disaster Management Section of Cabinet Office. If we take this sort of arrangement as being common throughout the world and not just Japan, it suggests that, while the question of how much support the international community can provide is important, the question of whether the recipient of aid has the capacity to coordinate and integrate collection, processing and sharing of information amongst its relevant organizations is also key in ensuring the success of international collaboration.

Mechanisms for Promoting Effective International Disaster Collaboration

Recognizing the importance of the coordination capacity of the aid recipient has on international disaster collaboration, the international community has instituted a variety of creative initiatives via the United Nations. Here, we will look at two of these: INSARAG and the Cluster Approach. INSARAG is a framework for international cooperation in urban search and rescue during the critical early period. In the case of an earthquake disaster striking an urban area, it is said that the critical time limit for the rescuing people trapped in collapsed buildings is the first 72 hours after the earthquake. Success of rescue mission depends on how many specialized rescue teams (Urban Search and Rescue Team: USAR) can be dispatched to the affected area within this time limit. In recognition of this fact and in order to enhance the technical capacity as well as the coordination of rescue efforts, INSARAG (the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group) was established in 2002 based on UN General Assembly resolution 57/150 and was joined by 80 member countries (*3).

Once a person is rescued, the next step is to provide emergency relief to them. Work is underway in this area as well, centering on the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), to organize and coordinate the functions involved in effectively providing humanitarian aid. In particular, a restructuring of humanitarian aid has been undertaken in light of the lessons learned from the Indian Ocean Tsunami Disaster of 2004, which killed more than 200,000 people. Despite the fact that a large number of groups and people were involved in providing humanitarian aid, including governments (central and local), UN organizations, the Red Cross, international and domestic NGOs, volunteers, military organizations, private companies, the media and local citizen groups comprised of those affected, there was insufficient coordination of the aid being provided. In response, a framework for a Humanitarian Country Team comprised of UN organizations and NGOs was established at the country level. Within this framework a Humanitarian Coordinator, who is the most senior United Nations officer amongst the UN organizations active within a country, leads the Humanitarian Country Team. A “cluster approach” is used whereby team clusters are created, with each cluster centered on a lead organization which consolidates information and clarifies responsibilities with regard to conducting needs surveys, task prioritization, response plan development and other work to be done within each of the specialized areas shown in the figure below. At the same time, these team clusters strive to ensure that there are no gaps or redundancies in aid provision (*4).



We have looked at UN-centered approaches to the coordination of international aid during the emergency-response support immediately after a natural disaster strikes. International cooperation on disasters should not be limited simply to this post-disaster emergency-response time frame. International cooperation needs to be developed further with regard to long-term, post-disaster rebuilding and recovery as well as to disaster mitigation. The common lesson of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and the Great East Japan Earthquake is that you only can do things you have prepared before disasters. In light of this, and in order to ensure multinational cooperation in the operation of an effective disaster management cycle, it seems essential that the existing international cooperative frameworks involving the UN, APEC, ASEAN and others be maintained and strengthened while additional, international disaster collaboration frameworks are to be built.

*1 http://www.wcdrr.org/uploads/Sendai_Framework_for_Disaster_Risk_Reduction_2015-2030.pdf
*2 http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/saigai/shien.html
*3 http://www.insarag.org/
*4 http://www.unocha.org/japan/about-us/about-ocha/international-humanitarian-system

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