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Vanuatu’s Disaster Risk Governance

Governance is generally defined as the quality of public administration, legal certainty and judicial capacity (EU). It is seen as having a good process, rather than necessarily “correct” decisions ( governance/what-is-good-governance/). Good disaster governance is not easily achieved, with the 2011 Global Assessment Report (UNISDR 2011, p. 116) concluding that “aside from reducing disaster mortality, existing risk governance capacities and arrangements generally fail to achieve their aims.” Good governance attributes for Australian local government emphasise, among other attributes, accountability, transparency, and participation especially by those affected by the decisions being taken ( what-is-good-governance/).

The ODI—UNDP Disaster Risk Governance Index:

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and UNDP have developed and applied a disaster risk governance index (ODI UNDP 2014). It takes the view that human development, political stability and democracy are needed for good disaster risk governance. However, the measured outcome depends on the details of the index applied (ODI-UNDP 2014, p.12). The index rates governance measures both disaster specific actions, such as plans, regulation, and policies, and more general attributes such as accountability, transparency, and participation. The resulting index ranks many countries highly, but many achieve low scores including Vanuatu.

The index is based on three existing indicators with global coverage, that focus on “generic governance characteristics, and environmental shocks and stresses” such as those from disaster risk management and climate change adaptation. The three existing indexes are:

  • 1. Coping and adaptive capacities as measured in the World Risk Report (2012) including perceived corruption index, good governance (failed states index), various medical facility and health outcome indicators, and a range of capacity indicators such as literacy rates and natural resource management;
  • 2. The Readiness Score (NG-GAIN) national level scores of vulnerability and readiness to adapt to climate change, consisting of economic, governance (e.g. accountability, stability) and social indicators (e.g. education, mobile phone usage, rule of law);
  • 3. The national monitor for the HFA—indicators from all five priority areas are included. These are: that DRR is a national priority with capacity for implementation; risks are identified, monitored and with early warning systems; a culture of safety is developed; reduce risk factors; and strengthen response capacity.

Vanuatu is ranked in the third quartile in all three measurement sectors. This is not a good result, but the third quartile contains a mix of countries and capacities, with a range of outcomes within those countries: examples include Vietnam, India, and the Philippines. A major positive element for Vanuatu is seen as the restructuring of government institutions to explicitly reflect the linkage of disaster with development (The Ministry of CC, disaster management, etc.). This is counterbalanced somewhat by the compartmentalization of donor activity on which the country depends (See also Nalau et al. 2015).

Although definitions generally include all formal and informal means of managing by government, and organisations fulfilling key social and economic roles, most of the ranking and commentary about Vanuatu in the UNDP Report draws on formal institutions only. Once we include informal support and allow for the distinctive features of Vanuatu villages, including houses made from local materials and subsistence or semi subsistence capacity for food production, and the existing traditional governance systems (including reciprocity and informal exchange economy), the picture would be expected to change. Yet, for example, after TC Pam the high reliance on subsistence farming and on traditional materials was a problem in some areas, as many of the plants for food and materials for construction were destroyed, leaving communities dependent on government handouts to some extent. What this shows is that governance is a complex and fluid, contingent on the circumstances, which are dynamic in the aftermath of major disasters.

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