Why Is It So Hard to Sustain Interest in Comprehensive EM?

Map of USA with Iowa highlighted

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After mounting an effective recovery effort for recent floods, the State of Iowa is ending its efforts. Rebuild Iowa Office to shut down. June 6.

The agency that coordinated the state’s recovery from the historic flood and tornado disasters of 2008 is going out of business, even though the debate about preventing future floods is far from over.

The Rebuild Iowa Office – which had about 21 employees at its peak – will close on June 23 in accordance with law requiring it to “sunset” after three years. However, state officials hope its work will be a blueprint for responding to future emergencies.

“I think the structure and the framework we put in place made a difference in the 2008 disaster recovery. There has been a lot of hard work that has resulted in best practices, benchmarks and models for the nation,” said Lt. Gen. Ron Dardis, who served as chairman of the Rebuild Iowa Advisory Commission and later as the agency’s executive director. He retired in January.

As reported by CNN today, Iowa is about to experience new flooding.  What does it take to get folks to think long-term and strategically about their vulnerabilities and risks?

Slow-onset disasters have unique recovery issues

Indus river and tributaries, data based on The...

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A recent article titled The Special Pain of a Slow Disaster, NY Times, November 10, raises a number of interesting points that I have not seen before.  I will mention two points – the first is lagging assistance to areas suffering from a slow-onset event experience and the second is that during recovery from a slow-onset disaster the downward trend may accelerate.

Researchers have know for years, that a disaster is usually just an interruption in the trajectory of the economy and general viability of an impacted community or region. But this article adds some details about the special problems resulting from a slowly-evolving flooding disaster in Pakistan. Some of the specifics about the Pakistan situation are as follows:

The water accumulated with the passage of time; it went up not in one hour or two hours but in weeks, he said, recalling the disastrous days in July when the Indus River system flooded millions of acres of Pakistani farmland. The flood plunged the deeply troubled nation into a humanitarian crisis that is likely to set back its development two generations.

Worse, help was equally slow in coming, Mr. Tariq said. There was no sudden rush of aid dollars to help flood victims, most of whom lost everything.

Pakistan was left rather alone in the most devastating flood in its history,” he said.

I strongly recommend that you read the entire article because it contains a lot of new information about long-term recovery from a slow-onset disaster.  Perhaps someone will do some research to determine if the same issues and problems have been present during recovery from slow-onset disasters in the U.S.  One more good research topic.

Pakistan – disaster recovery under extreme conditions and great scrutiny

As noted here many times, the recovery process is a complex one and one that is hard to accomplish in the U.S.  When the U.S. participates in the international response to a major to catastrophic disaster in another sovereign nation – especially underdeveloped ones,  such as Haiti or Pakistan — the problems grow almost at a logarythmic  rate.  Added to all of the elements of recovery are issues of morality, strategic significance, and existential concerns.  An opinion piece in the Wash. Post highlights some of these added concerns. Pakistan flood relief is in America’s strategic interest, Sept. 1, 2010.

The challenge for the Obama administration and other governments is to develop new mechanisms — similar to those, perhaps, that the United Nations has devised for rebuilding Haiti after its earthquake in January — that would enable relief and reconstruction with maximum transparency and honesty. If this is done successfully, the Pakistani government and its international allies, the United States included, could gain prestige in the eyes of a skeptical people. The alternative is a vacuum that extreme Islamist groups are already attempting to fill.  The American people must be there when the floodwaters recede. The moral justification is compelling enough. But the strategic rationale is real, too.

A related report, well written and compelling, was issued by the U.S. Institute of Peace, on August 17th, titled: Flooding Challenges Pakistan’s Government and the International Community. It makes a somewhat different case for the U.S. aid to Pakistan, highlighting the link between disaster recovery and peacebuilding.  A notable observation in that report is:

Unfortunately, disaster management priorities are often focused on immediate visible results rather than the less tangible and long-term goals of stable peace, good governance, and sustainable development. Saving lives is undoubtedly essential. At the same time, how disasters are managed can have a long-term impact on the conflict context. Disaster managers must ensure that short-term interventions also carry positive long-term impacts on societies that have already experienced considerable suffering.

Additional article, posted on Sept. 2, is well worth reading.  It deals primarily with the digital media and the mechanics of providing assistance to Pakistan, providing a very interesting contrast with the Haiti catastrophic earthquake earlier this year. See A Month In, Pakistan Flood Relief Efforts Stuck at 1.0, in Wired magazine .