At Practical Action, we know that investment in disaster risk reduction (DRR) is far more effective and efficient at saving lives and livelihoods than post-disaster relief – although both are necessary, to a greater or lesser degree. When more is invested in appropriate DRR, less relief is needed – as per the oft quoted fact that every $1 spent on DRR saves at least $7 in post-disaster relief (UNDP, 2016).
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to carry out those DRR activities that are the most obvious or the most urgent, because DRR is inextricably linked to the political economy.
For example: Practical Action works with one community just outside Piura, in northern Peru. Piura is the capital of a province with the same name and is economically the second most important region in the country outside of Lima.
The community of Polvorines is built on a seasonal wetland, so that during heavy rains, the water naturally drains there. The last time there was severe El Niño flooding in the area many houses were washed away and great damage done to life and livelihoods. One might think this would deter people from living in the area, but that was over 10 years ago now, and recent migrants to the area find it hard to worry about such a sporadic event. Furthermore, they have put much time, effort and resources into building their homes in a place from which they can reach their livelihoods in Piura, and the surrounding agricultural zone. Persuading them to move would not be easy, even if it were as simple as moving them into ready-made housing in another location – which it is not. The local municipality will not encourage them to leave either, as it was they who encouraged them to live here in the first place.
So what can we do in such a difficult situation? Practical Action is using the Markets for DRR approach (M4DRR) to analyse some of the post-disaster risks associated with reconstruction, and see if they may be reduced. For example, should a large reconstruction effort be needed, will there be sufficient labour and construction materials available locally? Where are the bottlenecks in the market chain that moves construction materials to the area, for example, are there any vulnerable bridges that might be washed out? How much will it cost to reinstate basic services, such as water and electricity, and who will be able to access credit to pay for these? On what terms?
The people of Los Polvorines are endangering themselves by living on unsuitable land because they cannot afford to live elsewhere. In the long-run, choices will have to be made. A flood event may provide the stimulus to move households to a more secure and appropriate location, if such a place can be found which still enables people to access their livelihoods. If not, ways will have to be found to make the area more suitable for habitation, for example by improving drainage, or raising houses onto stilts. In the meantime, we will continue to work with the community of Los Polvorines to mediate risk wherever possible.