Maximizing synergies: Climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction

Vijayalakshmi Vadivelu of the Evaluation Office at UNDP outlines the conclusions of the recently published Evaluation of UNDP Contribution to Disaster Prevention and Recovery.

The role of climate change in natural disasters is increasingly acknowledged, and reducing interrelated vulnerabilities is assuming ever greater significance. The Bali Action Plan negotiations have highlighted vulnerability and disaster risk reduction as key elements of climate change adaptation. Despite uncertainty over the exact magnitudes of changes in temperature and precipitation, climate change and its variability is more likely to increase the frequency of extreme weather events. As Juha Uitto discussed in an earlier blog post on poverty environment linkages, the risks are also strongly associated with poverty. The negative effect on agricultural productivity, water and other natural resources will have disproportionate impact on the livelihoods of poor in developing countries.

The enormous consequences of natural disasters for human development, poverty reduction and economic growth necessitate effective management of disaster risk and related issues such as climate change as an integral part of development planning. According to the Global Risk Assessment by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, with a few exceptions, progress in addressing climate change and disaster risk in national development plans has been modest. While most countries are signatories to the Kyoto Protocol and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), environmental management, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction are yet to be integrated in national development plans of countries, especially those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Through its assistance to national governments both before and after disasters, coupled with extensive country-support mechanisms covering the environmental protection aspects of climate change and poverty reduction, UNDP is in an advantageous position to help countries develop effective adaptation and risk reduction strategies. UNDP country programmes largely pertain to support to poverty reduction, strengthening governance, sustainable energy initiatives and disaster risk reduction, which provide considerable scope for furthering an integrated approach to climate change adaptation. UNDP has supported disaster risk reduction for nearly two decades. Support to climate change adaptation is however relatively recent spanning past five years, although there have been several interventions with vulnerability reduction focus, in the past years, as part of the poverty reduction and environment programmes. The severity of recent disasters has pushed the issue of climate change adaptation to centre stage of UNDP programming, with direct implications for how UNDP structures its programme support. UNDP has aimed to address climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction as development issues and as a factor in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. With increased recognition of the links between environment and climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, efforts have been made within UNDP to explore possible synergies in programming.

The Evaluation Office of UNDP addressed the above issues through country programme and thematic evaluations in the area of environment and poverty. The Evaluation Office of UNDP periodically assesses UNDP programmes at the country, regional, and global level to produce knowledge and draw lessons to understand what works and why, as well as what does not work. The evaluations inform the subsequent programme formulation of UNDP. The recent Evaluation of UNDP Contribution to Disaster Prevention and Recovery brought to the fore a number of organizational and operational issues that national implementing agencies encounter. While correlations are found between climate change and disaster risk reduction objectives, limited synergies have been created in UNDP support at the country level and in its programming. UNDP has not maximized its opportunities to demonstrate through its programs the critical urgency of integrating disaster and climate risk reduction. Some of these challenges are not unique to UNDP and common to the programmes of multi-lateral and bilateral organizations.

At the organizational level UNDP needs a coherent programme approach that addresses the complex policy, programming and partnership issues that would necessitate integrated programming. The current climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction frameworks of UNDP do not lend themselves well to an integrated approach.  A great deal of the information, analytical tools, risk maps and organizational capacity developed through disaster risk reduction programmes which have direct relevance in adapting to climate change are not fully maximized. In the adaptation and disaster risk reduction areas, independent of each other, the programmes however contributed to outcomes in reducing risk and vulnerability. The compartmentalized approach to addressing rapid and slow onset disasters constrained coordination between climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction programme areas. Furthermore, funding and programming arrangements have contributed to subtle and guarded boundaries between climate change and disaster risk reduction programming. More on this later.

In all countries studied by the evaluation, the anticipated impact of climate change will likely be superimposed over the existing climate-related disasters. This superimposition particularly has significant implications for countries with a large population living in coastal areas and arid regions. Though governments acknowledge the need for synergies between the two areas, both at the conceptual level as well as in program implementation, concrete efforts towards this end are in early stages. Strategies and programmes to address climate change risks and natural hazards have links to many sectors and therefore need cross sector approaches in addressing interrelated risks. Considering that environment, climate change adaptation, and disaster risk reduction activities tend to be spread among different government agencies it often slowed the pace integrated programming.

The evaluation concludes that while explicit links are made between disaster risk reduction, poverty, sustainable environment and climate change adaptation, there are no operational frameworks for integrating cross-cutting issues into UNDP programme areas, both in terms of planning and implementation.  The impact of climate change is likely to blur the boundaries between slow- and rapid-onset disasters in the future, and measures for better coordination among programme areas are critical.

Vijayalakshmi Vadivelu is an Evaluation Specialist at the UNDP Evaluation Office, and carries out global thematic evaluations and country evaluations. Prior to joining UNDP Vijaya carried out applied research on governance issues at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, India.

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