Wahlström on Risk Reduction Strategies
Margareta Wahlström discusses approaches and various challenges in motivating others to invest in risk reduction strategies.
Margareta Wahlström: You know, it’s really, I like to say it’s a real challenge because everyone thinks this makes ample sense. No one would ever tell you this is a bad idea, “No, it’s a very good idea!” So the question is really, since it’s really a good idea, where are the constraints? So I think it’s the balancing act of the reward you get from being very proactive and decisive in disaster response, and making investments in a very responsible manner that may not pay off until 10 years later. So I think the challenge for us, or the opportunity, I would say, is to make it much more visible, in very concrete terms. Why can you make a difference, as an individual decision maker, if you decide to, instead of increasing your disaster relief fund with 75%, you must still increase it obviously, but if you can take some of these resources, and say, “I will do a risk assessment of the status of all the schools in my country, and all schools that are below standards for whatever, earthquake or other risks, we will fix them,” and that we will actually make communities feel, understand, and hopefully take part in the process of making us safer. So, that’s very concrete, but in a more structured manner also. And I can see that this is beginning to work now because of the factors that externally influence. We are working a lot of the economics in risk reduction, to try to demonstrate how it works if you make the investment in the …., either stand-alone or by sector, in measures that we call risk reduction, but for you it might be a more energy efficient way of doing agriculture, it’s a question of how you best refurbish/retrofit physical infrastructure, it’s doing risk assessment of your critical infrastructure. And you will be able to see over what time span, with what investments, you may reduce this so that indeed, at some point you will have to make less investment in disaster response. And this work is beginning to have an impact. The technical work that is required to share experiences between different governments and how they are doing this has not progressed far enough yet. We hope to make a lot of progress here. And the issue is that in the longer term, you have a changing environment, you have cities that grow very quickly, and you have many things that impact really our sense that we’re not quite sure of what we’re planning for yet. And therefore I think there’s a need to deal with very basic things and trying to put these options and the menus for options in the hands of people who can take the responsibility for it is very important. So we talk with governments, planning ministries, economic finance ministries, ministers of education of course, but they are not in control of their buildings normally, so we have to spread this—that’s the essence of necessary strong political leadership. I think there is a lot of political leadership that gets played out very positively when you start looking at reality from this perspective. We are working with communities to encourage them to take more responsibility for their own safety and security, to understand their near environment, to look, are the drains in your village clogged, that’s why it floods so much? Are the schools in the right place? If not, maybe you can actually pull together and move it, so it doesn’t get destroyed next time you have big floods. Start at that level as well, people’s engagement and motivation will of course influence local governments to also feel empowered and take actions. Because a lot of these things, I think it is very important to see us as citizens also being responsible, we have to be ready to support sometimes extremely difficult decisions governments have to take on our behalf. It’s the choices between my immediate reward tomorrow, and my safer community in 10 years, or will my grandchildren save the community? And today overall, we are a bit too focused on immediate rewards I think.