Resilience is key

Article, 18.05.2017

From 22 to 26 May 2017, Switzerland will participate in a global conference on disaster risk reduction organised by the UN in Cancun, Mexico. The goal is to deliver on the commitments made under the Sendai Framework in 2015 in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. A project co-financed by the SDC in Nicaragua has proven that prevention in this respect can be hugely beneficial to small farmers.

Around 10 villagers building water-retention walls out of bamboo in a sloping field.
In several countries, the SDC is involved in developing some very simple agro-engineering techniques for disaster prevention, such as here in Honduras, where local inhabitants are trying to stabilise the side of a ravine. © SDC

All development efforts are essentially futile if they do not incorporate a disaster risk reduction component. In other words, the notion of sustainable development as envisaged in the 2030 Agenda must be realised on the ground with projects that build the resilience of communities at risk – before a crisis situation occurs. If not, even the greatest development progress can be swiftly wiped out.

These are the stark realities behind Switzerland's engagement in international cooperation. On the multilateral front, Switzerland campaigns relentlessly to enlist the support on the need to prevent disasters of as many partners as possible (donors, countries of the South, NGOs, local communities, etc.). It then assists in establishing concrete mechanisms at a national or regional level. From this perspective, Switzerland will participate in the global conference in Cancun from 22 to 26 May. In addition, it will continue to co-chair a group of donors in disaster risk reduction, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), until June 2017.

Devastating effects of climate events

At the same time, Switzerland also supports some promising initiatives on the ground that may serve as a catalyst for others. For example, given the challenges raised by climate change, farming techniques must now address the growing risk of climate hazards and their devastating effects. To this end, the SDC co-financed a project in Nicaragua (for just over three years) to ensure the economic survival of several thousand smallholder farmers on mountainous slopes. While the farmers were encouraged to preserve their environment, they also saw a sharp rise in annual production.

Project: In Nicaragua, reducing the risks of disasters is paying

Disaster risk reduction is not only about reforestation, promoting resistant crop varieties (which has always been done) or building protective walls in the middle of fields. Disaster prevention should apply to all sectors of development. This means, for example, teaching schoolchildren about good behavioural practices, having a healthcare system in place that can cope adequately with victims should disaster strike, or building flood-resistant roads and bridges to prevent villages being cut off.

Economic losses of USD 175 billion in 2016

With humanitarian crises increasing in number and gradually also in duration, building communities' resilience has become an issue of priority. Global insurance and reinsurance firm Swiss Re calculated that natural disasters in 2016 alone cost the economy USD 175 billion. This was a twofold increase on the previous year.

It must also be remembered that such disasters strike indiscriminately, affecting urban residents (e.g. earthquake victims) as well as small-scale farmers in rural areas. It was with this in mind that the SDC decided to focus on two main points at the GFDRR technical meeting in Zurich at the start of April: resilience in the urban context and resilience to climate change.

Support for mountain communities

A new report funded by the SDC and the Austrian Development Agency sets out 15 best practices for supporting mountain communities facing disaster risk. There is general agreement that mountainous regions are among the most exposed to the impacts of climate change. Their vulnerability to disaster risk is exacerbated by demographic growth, urbanisation and the implementation of infrastructure projects that are at times harmful to the ecosystems. This is why it is necessary to engage as many stakeholders as possible in prevention efforts, in line with the commitments made at the Sendai summit in 2015.

Safer lives and livelihoods in mountains (PDF, Number of pages 82, 6.5 MB, English)