Development and Environmentalism in the Global South

The paper highlights the incidence of un-connectedness of policy approaches dealing with disaster risk, climate change, and development explores underlying common denominators and argues that an integrated (read connected) approach (aka frameworks and tools) would be more effective in dealing with the disaster risk reduction and vulnerability mitigation, climate change mitigation and adaptation; and sustainable development. Other associated questions are first, reasons for policy disconnect, second, how an integrated model can be developed by learnings from these three realms.

The article has a reductionist flavor with a stated ‘Structuring’ objective in inter-realm integration with the neo-liberal approach. This paper bases its analysis on three broad sets of resources One, Global mainstream multi-lateral development actors e.g. UN publications, two, papers from social sciences academics, and bi-lateral institutional agencies’ reports e.g. DFID. Authors have taken an approach to dissect the triangular relationship between climate change, disaster risk, and development in three different parts to clearly analyze the dependencies, differential treatment by national and global policy/institutions, and the reasons. While components of the issue help develop better understanding but it keeps the evaluation two-dimensional risking losing other important aspects which could come up by introducing a third realm! The paper answers well ‘Why’ part of the question e.g. Why policy-disconnect but is short of providing a convincing and elaborate ‘How’ part of the answer as to how the learnings to be shared to develop an integrated inter-realm system to provide a one-full view while appreciating and accommodating global donor’s concerns and recipients’ issues.

Authors present information from UNDP and DFID as to how disasters affect the low-development countries and people disproportionately, which in turn, hampers the scanty development initiatives resulting in extraordinary direct and indirect losses in economic and socio-cultural spheres. While it intuitively makes sense but it indicates a perpetuating cycle and correlation between disaster risk and stifled development. Disasters not only disrupt development but also gloss over the reasons for disrupted development. While the paper touches upon this aspect but doesn’t reflect as to how disaster measures have been exploited to hide governance ineffectiveness causing a lose-lose situation (Loss of donor’s confidence and loss of opportunity for local administration to improve).

Authors present the phenomenon of disasters as unfortunate events which, if global network effects applied well, can promote economic growth based on neo-liberal market philosophy without necessarily accounting for the readiness of local socio-political environment and cultural systems. Many times, quick-fixes and going too far in applying borrowed (alien) economic models backfire making agencies cautious in funding new programs despite dire disaster-triggered needs as in the case of Samaritan’s dilemma. The local government’s inability and foreign agencies’ extra-aggressive / extra-cautious approach puts a large section of poor communities at risk. It demonstrates a deeply steeped power struggle to the detriment of the general masses. It presents a local-global nexus (probably not by design but co-exist on the scale of time) of imperialistic tendencies to keep the poor dis-empowered. I believe the inevitable interdependence of disaster and development, and it’s policy-enabled un-connectedness show a colonial streak.

Though the paper doesn’t shed light on non-policy led risk reduction and adaptation measures or how would the disaster be managed in a non-democratic country (essentially trying to relate the disaster measures with the political model), it would be useful to understand the effectiveness of disaster reduction tools and frameworks in a place where policy and related institutions are not as the well-established or political-economic structure is different from that of the Anglo-Saxon world. The paper approaches the arguments from ‘How policies are formulated in Global North’ exemplifying Hyogo Conference on Disaster risk, UNFCCC and assumes that these constructs would broadly be applicable in El Salvador as well which is neither having Anglo-Saxon version of democracy (and thereby institutional framework potentially could be somewhat dis-similar) nor neo-liberal market-oriented economy and its tools. The paper, while exploring inter-realm Policy linkages, does not lay adequate emphasis on community assistance or social/cultural support in the event of disaster relief mostly practiced in the Global South where policy apparatus is not as developed as in Global North.

Climate change impacts human development hugely. Inequalities in terms of industrialization sophistication and access to institutions and policies place the North and South ((with Tropical / Sub-tropical regions being particularly vulnerable) (Watson et al., 1998)) at two very different and perpetuating spatial positions. Building adaptive capacity with respect to climate change and technology transfer is seen as a development activity to break the vicious cycle (Fankhauser, 1998). Referring to Fankhauser (1998), Suarez and Ribot (2003), the Authors generalize positive impacts of climate change channelized into development outcome through the neo-liberalized mechanism of market dynamics e.g. Technology Transfer, increased economic output, etc. The author’s initial position of climate change making a huge impact on ‘Human Development’ is mostly limited to the economic dimension in its assessment. It doesn’t adequately reflect the depletion of social capital and cultural ecology by extreme climate change or sudden disaster risks. With the example of El Salvador, Schipper (2004) touches upon limitations of climate change causing development but his assessment parameters are again mostly economic e.g. agricultural yield, food security, etc.

Co-variance and causality of climate change and disaster risk are scientifically not established but their tools & frameworks could be used to supplement each other, in a limited way though, to provide additional adaptive capacity and resilience. Authors indicate that policymakers are slowly realizing the fact that both are part of the same socio-economic continuum and need to have mutually-accommodative solutions. If we reflect back at the paper, there are two types of examples – A large global bi-lateral or Multi-lateral agency (e.g. UNFCCC, UNDP-ISDR) in the context of policy view and Bangladesh or El Salvador in the context of a Tsunami or some other disaster risk. I hope this one-sided equation hasn’t led to backward derivation to force-fit the desired outcomes. This report could be richer with examples of policy disconnect in the Global South and disaster crises in the North.


Fankhauser, S. (1998) The Costs of Adapting to Climate Change. Global Environment Facility (GEF) Working Paper. No. 16. GEF, Washington, D.C

Schipper, L. and Pelling, M. 2006. Disaster risk, climate change and international development: scope for, and challenges to, integration. Disasters 30, 19−38

Schipper, E.L.F. (2004) Exploring Adaptation to Climate Change: A Development Perspective. Ph.D. Thesis, School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich.

Suarez, P. and J. Ribot (2003) Climate Information as a Neo-Classical Approach to Risk? The Case for Addressing the Root Causes of Vulnerability. Paper presented at the third annual Disaster Prevention Research Institute (DPRI) of the Kyoto University and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) meeting entitled ‘Integrated Disaster Risk Management: Coping with Regional Vulnerability’, 3–5 July, Kyoto, Japan.

UNDP (2004) Reducing Disaster Risk: A Challenge for Development. UNDP, Geneva.

Watson, R.T., M.C. Zinyowera, R.H. Moss and D.J. Dokken (eds.) (1998) The Regional Impacts of Climate Change. IPCC, Geneva