Experts to disaster officials: Don’t forget social factors

Up to 2 million people are reportedly in need of assistance after massive flash floods hit Bangladesh late last month. But better collaboration among various stakeholders could have prevented this scale of disaster, experts have said.

Although officials in Bangladesh said they made correct forecasts about the floods, their warnings were mostly ignored, SciDev.net reports. The head of a U.N.-backed disaster risk research initiative argued, however, that information like forecasts “are only one piece of protecting people, lowering risks and losses.”

“Disasters are (also) social constructs. We have to address why people are living in areas that are at high risk. What are the social factors involved and how do we address those to lower risk and losses?” Jane Rovins, CEO of the China-based International Research on Disaster Risks, told SciDev.net.

IRDR is a 10-year initiative to develop disaster risk reduction-focused information systems. It is backed by the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, International Council for Science and International Social Science Council.

Among IRDR’s goals is to explore the possibility of putting disaster-related data in an open access portal.  IRDR also plans to undertake a project that will examine socio-economic activities and weather events, and a separate study on human actions, decisions, cultural contexts and conditions during natural disasters.

The importance of integrating disaster risk reduction in social and economic development plans does not appear lost among countries and international organizations. Delegates to the World Ministerial Conference held July 3-4 in Japan, for instance, acknowledged it in the meeting’s outcome document, the U.N. Development Program says.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.