Report on Regional Event: Local Perspectives on Disaster Risk Reduction in Central and Western Africa

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Executive summary

ENDA RUP (environmental development action in the third world, relay for participatory urban development in Africa) and the ProVention Consortium organized a subregional workshop dealing with local perspectives on disaster risk reduction, which was held on 2 and 3 November 2006 in Dakar, to serve as a complement to initiatives carried out at the regional and international level. The thinking behind this initiative is that, given the current scenario, with the number of actors involved in disaster risk reduction increasing and the initiatives implemented by them multiplying, particularly at the regional and international level, it is important not to lose sight of local perspectives on the subject and to identify international and regional priorities taking into account the views, knowledge and know-how of those who implement risk reduction locally. This is particularly so in Africa, where local organizations, NGOs and civil society actors play a vital role in risk reduction. Unfortunately, however, local actors have few occasions to meet and share their expertise, experiences and best practice and identify priorities in disaster risk reduction activities.

Another reason for holding the workshop was the need to more clearly define the link between vulnerability to natural disasters and vulnerability caused by the development-related problems that African people often face, such as food insecurity, limited access to basic social services, HIV/AIDS and other diseases, forced displacements and migration, problems associated with gender and income inequality and conflict situations. To further confuse the issue, it seems that many organizations whose agenda does not include disaster risk reduction do in fact participate in such activities. It is necessary to reflect further on how disaster risk reduction can be better sustained and strengthened in Africa within the framework of coordinated action, taking into account the accumulation and scope of risks faced by households and communities, including creeping crises, which are the most damaging in many African regions.

The purpose of the workshop was therefore to strengthen the links between local risk reduction actors, encourage knowledge sharing, identify best practice and promote dialogue on measures to be taken, contributing in this way to the progress of risk reduction activities in Africa. The workshop is one in a series of three meetings. The others were held in Johannesburg with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and in Nairobi with ActionAid International.

The presentations focused on six main themes:

Theme 1: International and regional strategies

Theme 2: Local response to floods

Theme 3: Risks associated with coastal erosion

Theme 4: The risks associated with drought, locust plagues and climate change

Theme 5: Complex risk scenarios, including the “conflict” factor

Theme 6: Challenges involved in communication with the population

They provided an opportunity to share information on some of the main risks faced by local communities in West and Central Africa, including risks associated with drought and desertification, locust plagues and food insecurity, coastal erosion, floods, the spread of disease owing to unhealthy conditions and the lack of hygiene and the lack of decent housing. Three presentations on risks affecting the city of Goma, the influx of Togolese refugees in Benin and the risk of volcanic activity at Mount Cameroon, focusing on communication with the population, provided an opportunity to address more specific questions, such as the multisectoral aspect of risk, the repercussions of conflict situations and the influence of local beliefs and knowledge of technology and modern know-how and their implications for different aspects of risk communication.

The following observations were drawn from the meeting:

· It is necessary to formulate and define strategies and a disaster management plan at the national and regional levels.

· The financing of prevention measures by the State often poses a problem, and more support is required from other national or foreign sources.

· Climate change patterns already observed indicate the likelihood of these direct effects leading to other developments, the impact of which could be predicted by conducting forecasting studies in sedimentology and other areas.

· Socioeconomic data must be used to assess the economic impact of natural disasters and achieve integrated development as a result of risk reduction.

· Modelling and protection studies, particularly those on coastal erosion, flood and drought-prone areas, etc. are very costly and require support from the international community to put research into practice.

· Particular emphasis should be placed on educating people, with a view to bringing about a change in behaviour to build a “risk prevention culture” (education of the population to ensure more efficient disaster management in high-risk areas).

· Training and information aimed at the population should be tailored to their specific requirements and involve the people concerned.

The aim is to use the exchange opportunities created by these regional forums to set up an effective network of risk reduction actors to move dialogue forward and exchange practical advice. The forums will therefore contribute to achieving disaster risk reduction in Africa.

The recommendations formulated on the basis of this regional consultation process focus particularly on closer involvement by States and local groups in disaster risk reduction, institutional support at all levels, with assistance not only from the central government, but also from the international community, improved networking, particularly among NGOs, and the need for considerable investment in strengthening communication and awareness.

The main lessons learned and conclusions of the three regional forums organized in Africa by ProVention and its partners have been used to formulate and enrich the agendas and debates of the annual ProVention Consortium Forum, which was held in Tanzania in February 2007.