Our Perspective

Less Risk, More Reward


Be it by the Atlantic on Wall Street or by the Indian Ocean at the Colombo Stock Exchange, eyes are fixed on giant screens intently tracking the volatile economic progress of humanity materializing in a language of numbers alien to many. A little further to the South by the beach in the Bahamas or the Maldives, the people who pull strings and call shots are thinking – ‘more risk, more reward.’

Waves of ideas drive growth. But we often forget that in a split second, a disaster could cause the wheels of growth to stop turning and both the ideas and the machinery could be buried under a pile of rubble. One could argue that disasters are like punctuation, reminders that it is not always smooth sailing.

There have been approximately 6525 events classified as natural disasters around the world in the decade spanning 2004 - 2013. It is almost redundant to remind us Sri Lankans of the horrors of 26th of December, 2004. To some, reminders of personal experiences bring tears to their eyes. For others, there is a story to be told if a Tsunami warning is sounded or each time Boxing Day swings by. It is a step in the right direction that disaster management has risen up the national agenda today.

For generations past and many to come, people’s livelihoods have been closely connected to nature. Natural disasters and the ways and means of dealing with them have had a direct impact on millions of lives. If human development is to be viewed through the lens of freedom, where people’s capacities are enhanced such that they can make better choices, a robust national mechanism for disaster resilience serves as assurance of development prospects to communities.

There’s a tornado of buzzwords in our heads in the wake of the introduction of the SDGs to the world. It is extremely important as youth to make sense of any challenges in their adoption.

In Sri Lanka’s post-conflict era, it is necessary to remind ourselves of the huge development prospects ahead of us. Youth want to drive and reap the rewards of growth and do not want our good work derailed in the wake of a disaster. Hence, young people have both a massive stake and a role to play in reducing the risk of disasters.

A common perception of youth, although sometimes not properly justified or illustrated, is that we bring fresh, innovative and demanding perspectives to the table. Ever wondered if there are any misguided interpretations of disasters that could potentially stunt the progress of communities? Here’s one: a number of people may be of the view that natural hazards (or more precisely their increased frequency) are completely inevitable, or that managing disasters is a lost cause. It is important for communities to realize the value of collective efforts in achieving a desired level of disaster resilience. Youth have the power to spread the message that successful interventions can bring about change and reduce the risk of disasters significantly.

Disaster risk reduction is a key concern for youth civic engagement. According to the Sri Lanka National Human Development Report 2014 on Youth and Development: Towards a More Inclusive Future (NHDR), the National Youth Survey (NYS) 2013 identifies that many youth, at the mercy of top-down solutions, present themselves as passive recipients of development and feel that most systems and practices are not worth challenging since transformation appears to be impossible. In the wake of an increasing frequency of disasters and an ever-increasing need for action on climate change, the above trend is a dangerous one that needs to be reversed. Policies and practices need reorientation and adaptation, as static solutions may prove to be incapable of moving communities forward.

Disaster risk reduction has a strong connection to climate change adaptation. ‘Climate change’ is a buzzword that has bothered us for years. While youth may be eager to act on climate, we are often unable to translate such concerns into substantive action. Acting on disaster risk reduction represents tangible action on climate change.

The Minister of Disaster Management recently announced that the government has already put in place comprehensive disaster management measures nationwide. The hope is that the government has also considered creating space for youth to contribute towards such disaster risk reduction. Looking at the bigger picture, structural and indirect interventions can facilitate youth action on disaster risk reduction. For example, research and development and expertise are vital components for disaster preparedness and response. On that note, given the right environment, youth could come up with innovative solutions for disaster warning systems or a more responsive way to deploy relief assistance. Additionally, there are careers to be found in fields ranging from environment to humanitarian emergencies. 

When we were children, we were often referred to as tomorrow’s leaders – that ‘tomorrow’ is today. For those of us who would like to contribute towards implementing the post-2015 development agenda, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction is the first major agreement that will come into effect!

The idea of ‘mainstreaming youth into policy’ might sound like a cliché, but this is what must happen. Disaster risk reduction is no different. What is it that they say about examinations? If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. Each day is an examination of our resilience towards disasters, a measure of our levels of empowerment in combatting those challenges.

And finally to the buzzword of buzzwords – sustainability. Disaster risk reduction is a crucial component required to actually achieve sustainability. If youth want to become major stakeholders and call the shots in achieving sustainable development, the mantra we’ll have to follow must be “Less Risk, More Reward”. 

Blog post Youth Disaster risk reduction Climate change and disaster risk reduction Asia & the Pacific Sri Lanka

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