Edited Version June 16, 1999 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Forum Panel Discussion

"Linking Disaster Management
Sustainable Development Globally"

Featured Panelists

Helene Molin Valdes
International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) Secretariat
Unit for Latin America and the Caribbean

Ollie Davidson
World Bank on Disaster Projects

Stephen Bender
Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment
Organization of American States (OAS)

The original transcript of the June 16, 1999 online Virtual Forum Panel Discussion is available in the EIIP Virtual Forum <http://www.emforum.org>. The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussion, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the presenters to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning. Due to time constraints, additional remarks were inserted into the transcript following the session.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Panel Room!

Last month our panel discussed linking disaster reduction to sustainable development in the U.S., and today we are going to continue that discussion in the international context, with specific focus on the Western Hemisphere.

This year marks the end of the Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction and we will have a special session next week on that topic. But this is a time when the international community is also looking toward the future and an especially appropriate time for today's discussion.

Background information for today's session is located at <http://www.emforum.org/vforum/990616.htm> and a number of links to other sites and articles may be found there, as well as short bios for today's panelists.

• A quick reminder of the protocol for any first timers -- we will have approximately 30 minutes of presentation and 30 minutes of audience Q&A.

• Please do not send private messages to our panelists or the moderator during the session as it makes it difficult to follow the flow of the discussion.

• We will review the instructions for Q&A just before we begin that portion of the program.

In researching today's topic, I discovered that a Hemispheric Congress was held on just this topic during the Fall of 1996. Thirteen major policy areas were defined, as well as over 60 specific recommendations.

We are in the process of tracking down the published proceedings of the Congress, and I will have a link from the background page, probably no later than early next week when we post the transcript. [See <http://www.fiu.edu/orgs/IHC/congress/>].

Before we get started, I would like to share a quote from a posting to the IDNDR Internet Conference that came out yesterday afternoon to illustrate that the context of sustainable development for disaster reduction seems to be pervasive internationally.

This is by Gustavo López Ospina, Badaoui Rouhban and Julia Heiss of UNESCO and is entitled, "Education for a Sustainable Future," and the link to a related article on the importance of education is <http://www.quipu.net:1999/English/archive/14jun99b.html>.

"Sustainable development has been variously defined and described. It is not a fixed notion, but rather a process of change in the relationship between social, economic and natural systems and processes. Perhaps the most widely used definition focus on the relationship between social, development and economic opportunity, on the one hand, and the requirements of the environment on the other.

"In brief, sustainability calls for a dynamic balance among all factors, including the social, cultural and economic requirements of humankind and the imperative need to safeguard the natural environment of which humanity is part. What is sought is the condition of "human security" for all people. (UNESCO/EPD 1997)"


We are pleased to have a very distinguished panel with us today.

• We are pleased to welcome back Helena Molin Valdes, with the IDNDR Unit for Latin America and the Caribbean, and who helped us celebrate World Disaster Reduction Day last October.

• We are also pleased to have Stephen Bender with us from the OAS Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment, who has been involved with disaster reduction issues for quite some time.

• Finally, we are pleased to welcome Ollie Davidson, a consultant who has been working with the World Bank recently on a project in the Caribbean.

First, we will start off with Helena, who is an architect by training, and has previous experience with development in Latin America. Helena will share some of her experience with Latin America and we also asked her to speak about the recent IDNDR meeting in Costa Rica. Thank you for joining us, Helena.


Helena Molin: Thank you. We celebrated an IDNDR Hemispheric Meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica, last 1-4 June, with 635 participants from 31 countries to review progress in issues related to disaster reduction.

The most important learning from Latin America and the Caribbean, as seen in this meeting, may be the UNDERSTANDING of risk, as part of development issues. To fully appreciate the feasibility of disaster prevention, it is essential to recognize the distinction between hazard, vulnerability and risk.

• Natural hazards comprise phenomena such as earthquakes; volcanic activity; landslides; tsunamis, tropical cyclones and other severe storms; tornadoes and high winds; river floods and coastal flooding; wildfires and associated haze; drought; infestations; as you already pointed out at the beginning.

• Vulnerability to natural disasters is a function of human actions and behavior. It describes the degree to which a socioeconomic system is either susceptible or resilient to the impacts of natural phenomena, and includes aspects of awareness of hazards, the condition of human settlements and infrastructure, public policy and administration, and organized abilities in all fields of disaster management.

• The risk of a natural disasters is the probability of a disaster occurring, i.e. the impact of a natural hazard on a socioeconomic system with a given level of vulnerability.

Consequently, risk management includes aspects of hazard awareness, vulnerability assessment, impact prediction, and the formulation of counter measures. These would include the mitigation of hazard impacts or the reduction of vulnerability. This is not new to us, but it is interesting to share these views with emergency people, UN agencies, local community leaders, municipality authorities, etc., as we did in San Jose.

We had a session called: Reconstruction as part of sustainable disaster reduction, meaning that when we talk about sustainable DEVELOPMENT that does not necessarily implies risk reduction.

The limitations of traditional disaster management approaches

Reactive coping capacities that prepare communities for an adequate response, should disaster strike, reach a level of near perfection over time.

Improvements in institutional efficiency and coordination, the application of modern technology to disaster response, the availability of better early-warning data, faster means of information exchange, better contingency planning and many more similar measures will improve the capacity to respond and therefor mitigate the impact --- but, it will not reduce the physical and economic impact.

Conversely, the level of risk to natural disasters rises in a progressive manner, due to the increasing complexity of socioeconomic systems:

• population growth

• settlements in higher risk zones

• aging infrastructure.

The effects of global environmental change contribute to such increase of risk. Every system reaches a point where the level of risk exceeds the existing coping capacities, unless countermeasures are taken. If gains in response capacities can only be marginal, no solution is left but to engage in proactive risk reduction.

This being said, it is obvious that the concept of disaster reduction is not opposed to disaster relief, but integrates effective response as an indispensable element of concerted long-term preventive strategies, in case of need.

The elements of natural disaster reduction adopted by IDNDR

Natural disaster reduction is a strategic concept leading towards the reduction of the loss of life and property, as well as the social and economic disruption resulting from natural disasters. It relates to several other strategic approaches of the international community, such as, sustainable development, poverty eradication, protection of natural resources, climate change, as well as economic globalization and public private partnerships.

It injects the specific concerns of risk management and vulnerability reduction into these social and economic strategies. At the same time, it draws from these respective domains for the benefit of its own policy development, advocacy efforts and coordination needs.

Disaster reduction is an ongoing process and not limited to a singular disaster event. It motivates societies at risk to become engaged in the conscious management of risk, beyond traditional response to and defense against the impacts of natural phenomena.

Disaster reduction is multi sectoral and interdisciplinary in character and comprises a wide variety of interrelated activities at the local, national, regional and international levels.

These include:

• comprehensive research activities for better understanding of natural hazards and how their effects may be better addressed;

• application of scientific knowledge and technology for disaster prevention, preparedness and mitigation, including the transfer of experience and greater access to relevant data;

• structural measures to strengthen disaster resilience of human settlements and public infrastructure, and to contain the potential impacts of natural phenomena on socioeconomic systems, based on risk assessment/risk mapping;

• establishing public policy commitment on disaster prevention, preparedness and mitigation and adopting relevant legislation at both the national and local levels of administration;

• advocacy and sustained programmes of public information about natural hazards, vulnerabilities and risk, including formal education and professional training;

• establishing public policy commitment on disaster prevention, preparedness and mitigation and adopting relevant legislation at both the national and local levels of administration;

• integration of disaster prevention into national planning, including the establishment of effective risk management capacities, including disaster relief;

• measures of land use planning which include hazard awareness, vulnerability analysis, and risk assessment with the participatory involvement of local authorities;

• measures of decentralization of operational responsibilities and budgetary resources for risk management which will empower local communities to a greater degree of self reliance and improve their resilience to natural disasters.

We saw MANY examples of successful implementation of such measures in the Region during our Meeting 10 days ago in San Jose. Later on in this discussion, I can give you some of the highlights from the recommendations.

Amy Sebring: Thank you Helena. Next, Stephen Bender was involved in the Hemispheric Congress I mentioned earlier and co-authored the proceedings. His particular focus of late has been the education sector and he is well aware of the challenges ahead. Thank you for coming today, Stephen.

Stephen Bender: Hello and thank you for the opportunity to participate. I will now share some thoughts on this issue of sustainable development and disaster reduction.

Amy Sebring: Thanks, we are having some difficulty with Stephen right now but I would like to move on to Ollie and come back to Stephen.

Disaster resilience is also an important part of disaster reduction. Here to tell us about the World Bank and the project he is currently involved with is Ollie Davidson. Thank you for coming, Ollie.

Ollie Davidson: Hello, and thanks,


I have divided my presentation into two parts. First, the World Bank activities and my role in the Bank's Disaster Management Team. Second, the potential role for corporate employers in building sustainable Communities -- I believe that employers are the "missing link" which should become a powerful force to build disaster resistant communities.

The World Bank: Overview of Bank Structure


The World Bank Headquarters is organized into a set of six Regional Offices with Country Units and more than 90 Overseas Offices responsible for worldwide lending operations. Four major Networks provide expert support services. The Networks house experts with technical and regional specialties who are shared by all Regional Offices and undertake tasks across the 22 development sectors addressed under World Bank lending.

Field offices outside of the World Bank's Washington headquarters are in more than 90 countries that include client and lending partner countries.

The World Bank Institute (WBI) provides client training in support of all Bank program operations worldwide. The Development Economics and Chief Economist Office (DEC) offers cutting edge research on development topics and manages production of the annual World Development Report.


1. The Disaster Management Facility (DMF)

2. A Disaster Management Team - Latin America focus now, Members: W Bank, FEMA, USGS, NOAA and Ollie Davidson

3. Projects & Loans (Chart coming)

4. A Disaster Coordinator (soon to be selected)

Disaster Management Facility

1. Market Incentives for Mitigation Investment (MIMI)

2. Technical Support to Bank Projects and Member States (Brazil and Mexico Fires, Caribbean Hurricanes, Central America, Turkey floods, Turkey and India earthquake reconstruction, and El Nino-related projects in Africa, East Asia and Latin America)

3. Review and Evaluation of Bank disaster experience publicizing disaster "Best Practices"

4. Partnerships with International and Scientific Institutions

5. Training in Prevention, Mitigation and Response

W B Disaster Projects 1980-99

* 199 Projects - 74 Countries

* 101 Reconstruction - $7.4 Billion (US)

* 95 Natural Disaster Mitigation - $6.4 Billion (US)

W B Emphasis, (Pre-Disaster to strengthen sustainable development)

1. Mitigation as Routine in all disaster prone countries

2. Mitigation as a Process in envelopment not a single event

3. Share "Best Practices" to avoid repeating the mistakes

4. Consider Cost // Benefit because not every mitigation measure

5. Cost Sharing "Partnerships" to ensure local "buyin" and spread costs

6. Risk Transfer, encourage Insurance to cover risk which cannot be mitigated

W B Lessons from Reconstruction which impact on sustainability

1. A Speedy Response before counterproductive measures are initiated

2. Include sound development techniques and mitigation measures

3. Community Involvement is essential

4. Simple Project Design, especially after a disaster

5. Coordination, within the Bank as well as with outside organizations

6. Flexible Procurement methods are necessary to get activities moving


In addition to the World Bank there are other Banks:

• InterAmerican Development Bank (IADB)

• Caribbean Development Bank (CDB)

• Asian Development Bank (ADB)

• A fund for African development

Commercial Banks

Donor Loans are similar to banking operations

World Bank Contacts:

Alceira Kreimer, Manager; Margaret Arnold, Program Officer -- Disaster Management Facility --- World Bank, 1818 H St NW, Washington, DC 20433 E Mail: [email protected]

Andrei Iatsenia, Disaster Management Team LCSES

World Bank, 1850 Eye St NW, Washington, DC 20433

E-mail: [email protected]




Disaster Resistant Employers - The Missing Link in Sustainable Development

Once we have a source of food and shelter, most people want a job which will allow them to succeed in whatever they desire most, improved living conditions, education, etc. This means that employers, (businesses or government or community-based organizations), are a powerful influence in everyone's daily life. We must convert this "influence" into a force or disaster resistant homes, businesses and communities. Until businesses understand that they must prepare themselves and their employees to survive the disaster, we will never "win" the contest of sustainability versus disasters.

FEMA in the USA has recognized this possibility and is actively mobilizing employers through "Project Impact", a high priority activity. Lessons from FEMA, as well as from a number of local "private-public partnerships" built around disaster vulnerability, can provide lessons and models for similar activities globally. However, before businesses, government and other institutions can work together successfully, a number of attitude changes and legal constraints must be faced.

We don't trust each other - Breakdown the stereotypes:

* Government is regulatory, employees are lazy

* Businesses are only interested in making a profit

* Government --- business relationships are legally constrained

* Business objectives are focused, especially these days

* Government is fuzzy and "politically motivated"

The reality is that there are many more common points than now understood:

* Disasters are the great equalizer --- they hurt everyone

* Disasters cause people to lose their jobs

* Disasters take people from pay roles to welfare roles

* Prepared employees return to work faster, help others

* Government and businesses are inextricably interdependent after a disaster

* Government is the first responder, save lives/open roads

* Government Actions hurt businesses --- closes roads, limits access to even factories/plants

* Businesses cannot reopen without government's essential services

* Employees (business or public sector) will not return to work if their home or family is not safe

Information exists --- we CAN protect lives, homes, businesses and communities. Engaging all sectors to implement mitigation actions is the key. A specific "road map" of actions for business employees is needed as well as incentives to motivate businesses to recognize their potential to mitigate.

Business- Government Partnerships have made great progress in some locations; for example, the Government of St Lucia has corporate Chairs for 3 of 5 Disaster Committees.

Lessons from Successful Private-Public Partnerships

* Leadership, government and corporate

* Shared Vision by major players

* A Passion for Success, not just organizational approval

* Resources to start the process and demonstrate its potential

I hope I have stimulated your thinking and some questions. In closing, my business- oriented approach would motivate businesses to protect their employees and their jobs through mitigation and preparedness measures.

Amy Sebring: Thanks Ollie! We are going to try Stephen one more time. If it doesn't work, we will insert his remarks into the transcript. [Inserted]

Sustainable Development is Impossible in Conditions of Vulnerability to Natural Disasters

There are three principal development themes adopted by the countries of the Americas following the end of the Cold War:

1. Sustainable Development and Appropriate Environmental Management

2. Promotion of Free Trade

3. Strengthening of Democracy

Each of these plays a part in the declarations, resolutions, plans of action, and programs at/from the hemispheric and regional summits, conferences and meetings and from national development plans. They are today and for the foreseeable future the guideposts for shaping development actions.

On the disaster reduction front there are several groups which can be described in the following way:

• Those who adhere to the window of opportunity following a disaster theory: During the 1997-1999 period approximately half the countries of the hemisphere have suffered disasters necessitating international assistance.

• Those who see the window of opportunity to reduce disaster impact before an event provokes the need for an international response.

• Those who see little or no direct relationship between disaster vulnerability and development problems.

Five groups of actions with a focus on financial matters (while not always looking at economic and physical risk) are beginning to take place in the development area:

1.Debt forgiveness

2.Debt payment restructuring

3.Loan project reprogramming

4.New loan projects


The three principal questions as to mainstreaming disaster reduction in development refer back to the three principal themes of development in the hemisphere. All three themes deal with the sustainability of economic and social development actions in the next century.

The three questions for consideration are:

1. To what extent must the structure and content of disaster management, particularly at the international and national levels, be remolded as an integral part of development activities?

2. What are the limitations of cost/benefit analysis in justifying investments in vulnerability reduction, and in their absence, what justification will be used to such investments attending to the needs of the poor?

3. What legacy of action will the IDNDR leave with international and regional organizations, institutions, corporations, and national and local governments and businesses, building on the already thousands of contributions to the Decade?

To the first question on remolding disaster management into development addresses the issue of environment and sustainable development because this theme of development points towards an integrated approach, towards multi-sectoral action and towards intergenerational responsibilities.

It is critical that:

• Use of terms of transformation after a disaster become a reality where vulnerability reduction of economic and social infrastructure become part of the development agenda, and

• In countries not presently recovering from a major disaster, implementation of the Plan of Action of the Sustainable Development Summit calling for the incorporation of disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness becomes part of national development plans.

To do so:

• Reconstruction activities must be carried out in the context of development decisions, not replacement projects

• International and regional organizations and forums must assist and support national governments in exploring, discussing and adopting new disaster management structures which operate inside development activities and that those responsible for development projects are held accountable for risk and loss.

As to the second question of economic justification of investment in lower risk and protecting the poor, this question address directly the issue of trade. Free market capitalism and export-oriented economies are to provide the investments, jobs, earnings and revenues to meet development needs. Given that financial issues can take precedent over economic and physical environment issues, it is critical that:

• We recognize that as we learn more about who is vulnerable and why, we will have to also learn how to use this information in a highly charged political, institutional and technical atmosphere;

• We resist further movement to make "disaster management" a sector, but work towards full integration of disaster reduction in all development activities;

• We associate the poor's vulnerability to natural hazards with their other types of vulnerability so as to refocus where necessary development actions; and

• We strengthen efforts to identify vulnerability reduction to natural hazards as part of environmental management even as new challenges are emerging from economic sectors to compartmentalize environmental concerns and manage them as a sector apart from economic production interests.

To do so, we must:

• Deal with financial, economic and physical risk in a concurrent fashion,

• Create new tools for vulnerability and risk assessment in the context of development projects, and

• Clearly define for investment projects the anticipated financial, economic and physical risk levels due to natural hazards.

As to the third question of a legacy as we go forward, we must first and foremost recognize that an integrated, multi-sectoral approach to mainstreaming disaster reduction in development must take place in the context of national development plans as called for in the Sustainable Development Summit of Bolivia. These decisions must be carried out in democratic contexts with full societal participation for the definition of needs and the assignment of resources. Thus the sectors must take the lead forming the development agenda for the future, an agenda that includes vulnerability reduction of populations and their economic and social infrastructure. We must:

• Place vulnerability reduction on the agenda at the ministerial level during the next year, proposing regional and national actions through plans and programs to integrate vulnerability reduction into the heart of sector investments.

• Prepare and adopt vulnerability reduction plans as part of sector development plans.

• Report annually at the national, regional and hemispheric levels on disaster impact, vulnerability and mitigation efforts through sectoral and multilateral development mechanisms.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Stephen. Thank you audience for your patience today.

Now, let us get on with the Q&A. If we run out of time, you are invited to return to the Virtual Forum room after we conclude our session for open discussion. Audience, please enter just a question mark (?) at any time to indicate you wish to speak, go ahead and compose your question or comment. But hold it until you are recognized, then click on Send. Please indicate to whom your question is addressed. We are ready to begin.

[Audience Questions]


Bob Klebs: It looks like everyone is pointing to Mitigation as the answer. Who pays for mitigation? The locals or the state government?

Amy Sebring: Helena, would you like to address that issue? Especially the necessity we are seeing in the literature regarding involvement at the local level?

Stephen Bender: First and foremost those who are owners of the vulnerability, the owners of the infrastructure.

Helena Molin: If we go back to see what mitigation --- or disaster reduction is --- it is not necessarily EXTRA things that need extra budget, but should be integrated.

Ollie Davidson: Companies will pay for their own mitigation, if convinced it saves $$.

Bob Klebs: Yes but that shopping center built in the floodplain was poorly planned in the first place.

Helena Molin: Budgets may also be made available as part of insurance investments, locally or state or private.

Stephen Bender: Ollie, that points to the differences between physical and financial risk.

Helena Molin: What refers local communities and governments: many mitigation measures --- VULNERABILITY REDUCTION --- is part of improving everyday life.

Stephen Bender: Let both public and private sectors alike pay the real cost of the losses instead of using vulnerability as a subsidy.

Ollie Davidson: Some companies are realizing that their employees are valuable and will help protect them.

Amy Sebring: I would also like to mention the statistic that 90- 95% of impacts from disasters are in the poorer countries, not only in terms of lives lost, but also economically as a percent of GDP.


Amy Sebring: Helena, would you like to briefly mention the recommendations from the San Jose meeting now?

Helena Molin: Yes. Some recommendations:

4. To include on a constant basis local communities and their organisations, with an equal participation of men and women, in the process of planning, social control and policy aspects, and establish those mechanisms which are necessary to this purpose.

6. That governments include vulnerability and risk reduction elements in the formulation of national policies, strategies and development plans, and adopt common regional and sub-regional strategies to optimize the use of national and international resources.

Final Question:

Amy Sebring: Helena, do you have the link handy where the San Jose recommendations are posted in their entirety?

Helena Molin: <http://www.disaster.info.desastres.net> (under Hemispheric Meeting).

Amy Sebring: We are out of time and again our appreciation to our panelists today who have given their time to be with us. Thanks Helena, sorry to cut you short. A text transcript will be available this afternoon via the Transcripts link on our home page and the reformatted versions early next week.

Helena Molin: No problem!

Amy Sebring: Before we close the Panel Room for today, reminders about next week's events. Avagene, please.

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Amy. Next Tuesday, June 22, 12:00 Noon EDT is the Round Table led by the International Association of Emergency Managers.

On Wednesday, June 23, 12:00 Noon EDT, Philippe Boullé, Director of the IDNDR Secretariat will be with us from Geneva. Please join us for Mr. Boullé's session. That's all for now, Amy.

Amy Sebring: We will close down the Panel room now, but you are invited to join us in the Virtual Forum room to personally thank our guests and for open discussion.