Working together to build resilience in crisis-affected communities: A decade of partnership

By Rita Missal, Disaster Recovery Specialist, UNDP

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Recovery specialist Rita Missal reflects on 10 years of partnership between the United Nations, the World Bank and the European Union in their development of the post disaster needs assessment methodology, and its application in the wake of 65 crises in 48 countries.

A quick scan of the news this week takes me to Asia where over 100 people are reported missing or dead in the Philippines as a result of super typhoon Manghkut; landslides triggered by earthquake in Hokkaido region in Japan kill over 70 people; a dam collapse in Laos followed by flooding in 15 of the 16 provinces in the country kills 49, and 97 are still missing; and floods in Kerala, India claim 300 lives.

As I read the news, I see images of death and destruction and of men, women and children fleeing the waters and queuing up for food. Yet, a week or so after the disaster, I see people galvanized into action — helping each other, salvaging materials to recycle, repairing a roof, restarting their businesses. As we say at UNDP, recovery starts from day one. People are already at it, picking up what is left and trying to get back on their feet.

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A homeowner from Castle Bruce, Dominica works to repair his roof. Photo: Michael Atwood/UNDP

However, a lot remains to be done. As searches and rescues continue, immediate needs for food and water remain prominent, while governments are working to plan reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, restoring services and getting businesses running again. This is a mammoth task, and it is not for the government alone to undertake. It needs the engagement of society as a whole, the affected community, the private sector, national civic organizations and international partners.

When starting a recovery, the first thing to be done is to assess specific needs and their costs to decide how the process will be implemented, just as one needs an approved budget and design to start constructing a house. While a seemingly simple task, getting this information from say, 5 million people affected by floods in Kerala, can be a challenge. This is where the United Nations (UN), World Bank (WB) and European Union (EU) come in.

In 2008, the three institutions committed themselves to jointly assist governments in post-crisis assessments and recovery planning. As we commemorate 10 years of partnership this year, I look back with a sense of achievement at the 65 post-crisis assessments and recovery plans supported to date. This support has also inspired many governments to focus on “building back better” and, through this, to strengthen resilience to future crises. Over the past seven years, I have worked with a team of professionals across several UN agencies, the EU and the WB to develop guidelines that define the methodology for assessment, recovery planning, and the rules of engagement through which the partners can support governments. These guidelines are now available on public websites.

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Women in Nui Island raise their hands when asked if they want to participate in a cash-for-work programme after Cyclone Pam in Tuvalu, 2015. Photo: Silke von Brockhausen/UNDP

A key principle in our engagement is that the government leads, and our role is to assist them in this capacity. We have prepared government officials to conduct their own assessments through trainings and adapting the methodology to local contexts. The results have been rewarding: in Nepal, for example, three years after the devastating earthquake in 2015, the government is midway through the five-year recovery plan developed together with the three partners and financed by US$4.6 billion raised after the joint assessment.

As the three institutions come together again to assess floods in Laos and Kerala, I am reminded of what brought me into the UN: the super cyclone in my home state of Odisha, India, which took over 20,000 lives and destroyed homes, including a section of my own house. After a day of numbness and disbelief, I started cleaning my home and slowly began looking for opportunities to volunteer. That is how I started working with the local UN office: to assist with recovery. It has been an exciting journey, one of learning, making lifelong friends and seizing the opportunity to be part of one of the major international institutions contributing to recovery. Although unplanned, I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.

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Timber arrives at Antigua barge port for shipping to Barbuda for the China Aid/UNDP Hurricane Irma — Building Back Better Roofing project. Photo: Kerrie Hall/UNDP

The UN, WB and EU are commemorating the 10th anniversary of signing the Joint Declaration on Post Crisis Assessments and Recovery Planning. It will be an occasion for the partners to reiterate their commitment to jointly collaborate in supporting governments to enhance resilience to crisis.

To find out more about recovery in today’s world, tune in to UN Web TV on 28 September at 2 p.m. Eastern Time (UTC -4).

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