Disaster Preparedness: a local governance imperative

By Job van der Poel, Programme Manager and Trainer at The Hague Academy

Photo: Paul Jeffrey. ACT Alliance. The Philippines.

Socio-natural disasters and risks have been a threat to human life for centuries. At the start of a new decade, increased political volatility and a rapidly changing climate will most likely result in an increase in displacement, extreme weather events, and environmental degradation. Providing the required assistance in a timely and efficient manner is a herculean task, putting human and organisational capacities to the test. It becomes only more challenging when realising that disasters, while often similar in their consequences, require unique responses depending on the type of event,  context, and underlying pressures.

Appropriately responding to the pressures of climate change and rapid demographic changes is near impossible without local expertise, the right skills and efficient levels of preparedness. Having a pro-active stance on emergency management, as opposed to a reactive approach will help to manage the consequences of a disaster. The development of Emergency Preparedness plans become then a local governance need and an obligation, particularly in fragile contexts.

What is a Pro-active approach to emergency management?

“Preparedness” concerns the process of analysing a context, its hazards and related risks and undertaking pro-active strategic planning exercises, including setting objectives and ensuring capacities for response when disaster strikes. It requires putting in the time, funds and expertise before people find themselves in immediate and urgent need. The issue, however, is that although preparedness is crucial to ensure that disaster response activities are effective, these activities are harder to sell and not very practiced.

Proactive emergency preparedness brings about significant benefits:

  • Reduction of loss of life (anticipation ensures more rapid mobilisation of resources)
  • Less socio-economic pressures (anticipating pressures on economic development and social movement, reduces the need for high-intensity large volume mobilisations in short periods of time);
  • Reduces the likelihood of unintended negative effects (through active stakeholder engagement and context analysis, it is easier to deal with the effects of disasters).

Who are the key actors?

Preparedness and the ability to set up an effective response is a collective responsibility. It requires a broader objective, shared by national and local governments, the private sector, civil society organisations, and institutional donors. The primary responsible for guaranteeing the safety and security of its citizens is the government and the local authorities. However, preparing with the skills and resources needed to coordinate an emergency response is not standard practice, even in areas of high exposure to natural disasters. A level of preparedness to ensure a timely and efficient response can be achieved through contingency planning, developing coordination structures and strengthening standard procedures in emergencies.

What do we need?

Disaster preparedness does not require a revolutionary shift in the approach to emergency management, nor is it an attack on the current system. Preparedness actions require expertise and financing. Funding agencies play a major role, by making available enough funding for key actors to ensure preparedness while lessening the burden on resources at the time when disaster strike. Local governments and authorities need to understand their pivotal role in response management and the required expertise and preparation needed to provide that required support. National governments funding of preparedness and resilience programs at a local level, will also decrease the loss of life and reduce burdens during a crisis. All actors need to keep in mind that the most effective emergency management happens at the lowest level, and therefore investments are needed in local NGOs, civil society organisations and community-based organisations who are often more than willing and capable to respond if only given the resources and required tools. Community engagement and capacity-strengthening will allow local communities to set up their own response and respond in a timely manner. Building local resilience is a joint venture, and should be addressed as such.


Related courses:

Click on the image to learn more:

How can local authorities respond to climate change and develop resilience policies? How can citizens be involved in planning climate change mitigation and adaptation actions? What financing options exist for the local level and how can funds be accessed?


Job van der Poel is involved in the design and management of trainings, primarily focused in North Africa. He has extensive experience working in volatile contexts. Prior to joining the Academy, he worked as an emergency preparedness and response coordinator for a Humanitarian INGO. Job completed a master’s degree in International Public Management at Sciences Po Paris (Institut d’études Politiques Paris), with a focus on Project Management and International Development. He holds a bachelor’s degree on Political Sciences of the Middle East.

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