Covid-19 is a wake-up call to invest in resilience

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020 00:00 |

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Kanmani Venkateswaran   

This time last year it was hard to imagine that a pandemic would have consumed the minds of disaster management experts.

But here we are in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis that has resulted in a global humanitarian reckoning.

This threat is so grave it has brought economies to a screeching halt, exposed our vulnerabilities, ignited long-simmering social and political unrest, and highlighted how interconnected we are.

As the pandemic rages, the long-forecast climate crisis has arrived. We need only look to the severe flooding in South Asia this year; to the catastrophic wildfires in the western US or the recent devastating bushfires in Australia to understand that developed nations are as threatened as fragile states by climate change.

The world’s resources have necessarily been mobilised to tackle the social and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, it’s never been more important to ensure that our response and recovery to the pandemic form part of the essential work taking place globally to build community resilience to natural hazards and climate change.

A future pandemic is something that we’d be crazy not to plan for, now that we know the colossal cost to the global economy, measured in trillions of dollars, and the huge impacts to our way of life that have resulted from Covid-19. 

The Covid-19 crisis must be the wake-up call humanity heeds to increase funding to help the most fragile and climate vulnerable communities prepare for and build their resilience to natural hazards.

Fortunately, there is growing agreement concerning the need to build resilience into our Covid-19 recovery globally, in ways that help us cope with both current and future challenges.

Yet, as revealed in our recent report  At  What Cost, wealthy nations are in danger of failing to meet their climate finance commitments to the world’s most fragile states.

The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (The Alliance) is leading by example.

The Alliance is 24 months into a five-year global programme aiming to support 2 million people - from countries like Peru, Bangladesh, and the Philippines - to cope with climate change, build their resilience to flooding, and strengthen their disaster risk reduction practices. 

For example, the Alliance facilitated the establishment of community groups and brigades in Nicaragua and Mexico to help build flood resilience.

When the Covid-19 crisis emerged, these groups utilised their skills to leverage relationships fostered to manage the impacts of the pandemic in their communities.

At the funding and policy level, by July this year, the Alliance had influenced Sh 26 billion (US$243 million) of commitments and spending on flood resilience.

It will take time to see the results of the policies we have improved, whether or not flood resilience spending commitments are honored and how improved investment impacts the lives of the vulnerable.

 But these experiences have given us insights that are relevant for building back better on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Building multi-hazard community resilience requires investment and political will from wealthy countries and donors.

Communities and practitioners must also be enabled to implement locally owned projects that reduce underlying vulnerabilities and risk, and support climate change adaptation.

Together, these efforts, from the local to the global, will help communities around the world to thrive in a multi-hazard, post-Covid-19 world.

On the International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction, that’s something worth pondering.

Kanmani Venkateswaran is Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International, which is a member of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance

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