Malian refugee Tinalbarka, 16, with her parents. Photo: UNHCR/Agron Dragaj


This year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (13 October) is an opportunity to highlight that without institutions, policies and frameworks for collaboration between all actors in charge of disaster risk reduction, even the best plans and strategies will fail.

13 October marks 273 days since Africa’s first COVID-19 case was recorded in Egypt on 14 February 2020. With 78 more days left this year, 2020 seems like anything but a normal year. Yet, for the millions of Africans living in fragile and poor communities, COVID-19 was just one of the many crises that affected their lives and livelihoods. In September alone, floods from torrential rains following a long period of drought destroyed the assets and livelihoods of millions in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal.

The pandemic laid bare the structural inequalities that have rendered communities in the Western Sahel and Lake Chad Basin region susceptible to the growing impacts of climate change and increasing instability and violence. Caught up in the vicious cycle of humanitarian crises against a backdrop of protracted conflict and poverty, disasters continue to erode the capacity of communities to cope with shocks and return to a path of sustainable development.

As the world races to find a way to halt the pandemic, societies and nations are coming to grips with the longer-term economic implications of the pandemic, such as their (in)ability to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals or the African Union’s Agenda 2063. While shrinking fiscal space in most countries along with projected reductions in development assistance present a bleak picture, it also offers the opportunity to rethink our development trajectory.

In the Sahel, a land of hope, this means investing in sustainable development solutions for local communities, so that they can not only recover from crises but better withstand future shocks. Striving for a greener future is not a moral imperative but an existential necessity. Socio-economic recovery from the crises must aim for the creation of green jobs, especially for the youth, expansion in the use of renewable energy, and provision of a better quality of life for 70% of the inhabitants of the region thanks to reliable electricity.

COVID-19 is also a stark reminder of the urgent need to jointly address the multiple risks that arise in fragile contexts such as the Sahel. Globalization has anchored the systemic and interconnected nature of disaster risk in a world facing the unprecedented challenge of a climate emergency and a full-fledged pandemic. 

We must not forget the lessons from the past. Despite the Ebola outbreak in West and Central Africa in recent years, few countries have included biohazards, such as pandemic risks, in their national and local disaster risk reduction strategies. COVID-19 tells us that it is time to act decisively on biological hazards by applying an integrated risk management approach.

While disasters cannot be avoided, one needs to be able to prepare for them, reduce their impact, and recover quickly. The call for global solidarity, multilateralism, and regional cooperation must not be limited to COVID-19.

Successive and concurrent disasters remind us that for development to be sustainable, our actions must take into consideration the multiple risks to which a region is exposed. Whether in our fight against the pandemic or climate change, this entails recognizing the critical role of science and promoting the systematic collection, analysis, and use of risk information in decision-making.

To build resilience in the Sahel, disaster risk reduction can no longer be an afterthought. It must be embedded in the DNA of development planning and investment decisions at all levels – from the global to the local – and by all actors, from public to private. Such a whole-of-society approach requires strong and inclusive institutions with clear policies and skilled professional staff to drive the transformation towards a sustainable and resilient future.

Partnerships are critical to capacity building for disaster risk reduction and adaptation to support resilience in the Sahel region. Through the Sahel Resilience Project, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) aim to strengthen the capacities of regional and national disaster management institutions in promoting sustainable development solutions that take risks into account.

This initiative funded by Sweden and UNDP with an overall budget of $7.5 million, will foster coordinated action by regional institutions in charge of disaster risk reduction—the African Union Commission, ECOWAS, the Lake Chad Basin Commission, specialized agencies such as AGRHYMET, and the university consortium Peri Peri U, together with UN Women and UNDP.

They will focus on strengthening the regulatory, political, and budgetary frameworks of disaster risk governance at the regional and national levels; promoting recovery processes that take into account the underlying risks of disaster and climate change; and urban risk management.

At the national level, these institutions will support disaster risk reduction strategies and resilience-building implemented by the governments of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal, along with their commitments to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction  and the Africa Programme of Action for the implementation of the Sendai Framework and the Africa Regional Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Each year, 25 million people are displaced by climate and weather-related events. Disaster risk reduction requires all-of-society engagement to develop and successfully implement regional, national, and local strategies to reduce, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. So far 86 UN Member States report having started work on these strategies.

On this International DRR Day, as we mourn the precious lives lost to COVID-19 and other crises, we reiterate our commitment to work together to build resilience of the Sahelian communities and to ensure their right to a sustainable future.

#ItsAllAboutGovernance #DRRday

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