Examples of how to rebuild resilient societies in the wake of natural disasters and man-made conflicts, from countries are varied as Iraq and India, were on offer during the second day of the EU Development Days conference in Brussels on Thursday (8 June).
Speakers from the World Bank, the United Nations, the EU’s Department of Development and Cooperation, and the Iraqi Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers were on hand to swap examples of recovery from cyclones, flooding, conflicts and civil wars.
But the main message was the traditional mantra of NGOs, civil society and governments, to ‘Build Back Better’ was not enough. The hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq needed more than just a new home, Mahdi Al-Alaq said. A brick-and-mortar building was nothing without food and water security, the prospect of a livelihood, and conflict resolution.
“Our plans must meet the unexpected,” the Iraqi minister told an overflowing hall of around 120 development professionals at the EU-funded conference.
“We have immediate needs, in terms of the urgent needs of the IDP in hot regions. But we have strategic needs, such as stabilising liberated areas.
“We have a huge task force working to return IDPs, but this process needs good livelihoods, drinking water, and – most of all – schools for the children.
“Restoring damaged houses [alone] is not enough. Tens of thousands of our people, and our security forces have sacrificed their lives, but now we need to clean the land of mines, and support vulnerable women and children.”
The role of women was a recurrent theme of the two-hour discussion. Hiba Qasas, the United Nations chief of crisis preparedness and response, pointed out that in the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone, some 90% of the deaths were of women and children.
Despite the passing of nearly three decades, the story has not changed much, she explained. The 2004 Asian tsunami saw 70% of its victims as women and children.
Although men are the chief mortalities in conflicts, the women bear the brunt afterwards, with one in five female IDPs experiencing sexual violence, Qasas noted.
“Crisis is not gender neutral. Risk is not equally shared,” she declared. In terms of armed conflict, there are some 5 million widows in Iraq, and 30% of the displaced in the current Yemen conflict are female-led households.
Yet, Qasas continued, globally just 4% of peace agreements have a female co-signatory, and there are few women negotiators. Convener Nigel Fisher had to reach back to Guatemala in 1991 to find an example of a peace process led by women.
Qasas pointed out that in flood-prone Bangladesh, it was frequently women’s groups who came up with the best recommendations for future preventative and recovery measures – but their voices were not always listened to.
DG Devco’s Leonard Mizi – a late addition to the panel – admitted that in rural areas “women still face barriers”, such as “asymmetric access to information and services.”
“Recovery is a critical opportunity to build back better,” he said, but it was too often “poorly executed”. “We need to think more out of the box,” he concluded.
Fisher pointed out that “meaningful” livelihoods in post-crisis or disaster communities “are not just clearing up rubble.
“For a family, living in a new home is not going to keep them alive, without food security, and a prospect of a livelihood.”
Jo Scheuer, the United Nations Development Programme’s Director of Climate Change and Risk, stated baldly that “without women, we won’t achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.
But he went on to point out that – according to the US military – “one of the biggest threats in decades to come” would be climate change.
“There have always been conflicts over land and water. There will be more and more in future, and it will only get worse as climate change increases unchecked.”
“Sea-level change is already happening, no two ways about that,” Scheuer said, adding that “Even areas and regions not affected now will have to think about it,” as “they might have to host climate refugees.”
Sameh Wahba, Group Director at the World Bank, pointed to another factor – urbanisation.
“In Africa, we are seeing urbanisation on a scale never heard of before in human history,” he said. These people all need land, shelter and housing “but they are trading ‘livability’ for the possibility of a livelihood, ending up on the margins of cities, at risk of flooding and landslides.”
Convener Nigel Fisher concluded, “The last crisis is never the same as the next one.”
However, on a note of optimism, Wahba pointed out that, with $255m invested in India since the cyclone of 2000, in shelters and evacuation planning, it was estimated that some 99.6% of potential casualties has been avoided.