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Critiquing Current Systems-Based Approaches to Disaster Risk Reduction

Thursday, April 12, 2018

UK Association of Disaster Response Conference, UK (26-28 March 2018)

Dr Katja Samuel (Associate Professor in Global Security and Disaster Law, an Associate of the Walker Institute) spoke at the recent annual interdisciplinary conference of the UK Association of Disaster Response (Bristol, UK, 26-28 March 2018) on the topic of 'Disaster Risk Reduction, Early Warning Systems and Global Health: Critiquing the Current Systems-Based Approach'.

The paper was based on joint, ongoing, research between Katja Samuel and Professor Ros Cornforth, Director of the Walker Institute, University of Reading, exploring how to better realize one of the ambitious yet critical goals of the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030), namely increased multi-sectoral approaches. More specifically, drawing upon their own legal and scientific expertise respectively, they examine the necessity of better integrating legal approaches with scientific and technological ones through a critique of the current systems-based approach to early warning systems developed by the UN Office of Disaster Risk in 2006 which continues to inform intergovernmental as well as governmental policy and research agendas. Recent projects utilizing the current approach have highlighted the need for a new approach that synthesises multi-sectoral evidence from a broader base: not only such disciplines as climate science, hydrology, livelihoods and health but also Law.

These issues are further explored in the context of the global health agenda of the Sendai Framework. There is growing recognition that health issues can be both a 'determinant and an outcome of the human dimension of disaster risk reduction' (Chan and Shi). An overarching goal of the Sendai Framework is to reduce people's vulnerability to risk, such as health-related ones, and to improve their resilience.

More specifically, the ongoing research explores whether the current systems-based approach, developed prior to the Sendai Framework and its ambitious multi-sectoral goals, is still the most appropriate one but needs to be interpreted and applied through a broader multi-sectoral paradigmatic approach, including the embedding of existing legal tools; or whether a revised and updated systems-based approach should be developed.

The current systems-based approach is framed around a four limb approach: (1) risk knowledge, (2) monitoring, (3) warning communication, and (4) response capacity. In contrast, a legal approach to DRR, including early warning systems, is framed around different considerations of: (1) the prevention of harm (e.g., of transboundary pollution or contamination), (2) the protection of core rights (e.g., right to life, livelihoods, adequate standards of health, clean water), and (3) accountability for wrongful acts or omissions to states or individuals, resulting in appropriate reparation.

The paper explored how at present a number of legal tools already exist which would be complementary and mutually reinforcing of existing scientific and technological approaches to DRR including more generally, drawing especially from international environmental law, international human rights law (including specialist legal regimes protecting vulnerable groups), international disaster law, global health law and the principle of due diligence. Increased integration of such legal tools within scientific and technological approaches to DRR would carry with it a number of associated benefits, such as strengthening governance; bringing increased clarity on standards, definitions, parameters and so forth including on DRR and early warning systems related policies and practices; facilitate the further strengthening and development of existing early warning mechanisms; and afford increased protection to those groups most vulnerable before, during and following a disaster event.

The completed research is due to published within a significant forthcoming volume on DRR: Katja Samuel, Marie Aronsson-Storrier and Kirsten Bookmiller (eds.), The Cambridge Handbook on Disaster Risk Reduction and International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2019 forthcoming).