Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Capacity focus, 89: The governance challenge of decision and action for sustainably reforming natural resources and hazards management . . . opportunities and pitfalls

The FAO diagram shows how, as government officers, departments, ministers and stakeholders interact, contend and somehow come up with decisions, those society level decisions and actions then exert influences on the management of natural resources and hazards:

Of particular importance is the facet that manages the disaster risk cycle:

Why is that?

Two reasons, first, that capacity to govern, develop policy, devise strategies and programmes then to carry out linked technical functions effectively and in good time, are critical to the management of hazards; and, as hazards are in effect negative resources, resources also.

Second, in a great many cases it is failue to properly anticipate risks and then avert or mitigate them, that contribute to the magnitude of th ensuing disaster. Leading to rather directly unsustainable development. And, not to hammer the nail home too hard, a classic recent example in the Caribbean is the loss of a generation of development in Plymouth Montserrat due to failure to properly manage eposure to volcano hazards:

This brings the concept of sustainable development back to the fore:
Sustainable Development: better and more fairly meeting our needs today while making such wise use of resources and so carefully husbanding the environment -- our bio- physical, socio- cultural and economic surroundings, and trends (. . . as well as shocks)  -- that our children can adequately meet their needs tomorrow.  [Adapted, Gro Harlem Bruntland et al, WCED, 1987]
It would of course be wonderful if we could all sit down together and through sweet gentle reason, come to a stable consensus on what that requires. But already, speaking about better and more fairly meeting needs implies social conflicts and a likelihood that some are pushed to margins of power and well-being, even as others advance through their power. These marginalised then tend to be excluded, pushed to marginal lands and livelihoods, and to lack education and other opportunities for upliftment for them and for their children. Which of course makes them particularly vulnerable to the impact of disasters.

Already, conflicts loom.

Multiply by the fact that our frames are "of dust," and so to live and thrive we must draw resources -- some renewable [but depletable . . . think, for example, fish stocks], some non-renewable (such as ores, fossil fuels, etc). Where, if we over-draw on renewable resources, the supply may crash, and if we unduly exhaust non-renewable resources today, they are not going to be there tomorrow, as was discussed earlier in this series. And, the notion of attaching a levy or the like to help put aside investments for the day when the resource is exhausted invites all sorts of contentions, and frankly thievery or squandering.

Where squandering, waste, depletion, exhaustion, marginalising the powerless, etc all tend to amplify the impact of potential disasters. (In the Caribbean, think in terms of hurricanes, floods and droughts, earthquakes, epidemics, landslides or mud flows, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis as typical "natural disasters.")

No wonder, some are tempted to speak in terms of the curse of resources.

But that needs not be so:

1 -->  We are not horses or mules, we have the power of understanding and of good will towards wisdom. If, we are willing and make the sustained  effort.

2 --> Yes, if. (And yes, that is the biggest two-letter word of all.)

3 --> The possibility exists, if the collective will can be mobilised as a critical mass to move us towards wisdom. Folly and resultant disaster are not inevitable.

4 -->  For, we are morally governed creatures, so we can listen to the better angels of our natures, if we are willing.

5 --> And, yes, I hammer this home because this is exactly where ever so many of our problems lie, compounded by Lord Acton's historical observation that power tends to corrupt and absolute -- unaccountable -- power corrupts absolutely. Not to mention, Jeremiah's cry that he heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.

 6 --> This, we must soberly face as a region, and seek reformation. Which, frankly, requires the aid of God; whatever our angry atheists may want to say. 
(And yes, I am aware that many atheists are not especially angry people, it is the angry ones pushing radical agendas driven by that rage I am talking about. [And no, Stalin, Mao, et al are a LOT closer to us and were hugely more destructive than Torquemada and the Inquisition or the like, so let us not allow ourselves to be overly distracted by that now remote history. The issue is out of control power and ruthless factions or power blocs, as Lord Acton pointed out. And, if you want reformation in the Caribbean, it is going to have to respectfully involve -- as opposed to seek to co-opt and manipulate -- the moral-motivational centre of our region, our Judaeo-Christian cultural foundations. From the ground up.])
 7 --> Now, let us look a bit closer at the FAO diagram. The main power centres in a community, obviously, lie in the Government, in major businesses and in dominant institutions of various stripes. Indeed, there is a tendency for the government to become captive to powerful interests, who monopolise the fruit of power, to the detriment of sustainability. Alternatively, government can become the institutional expression of an ideology and its own entrenched power class.

8 --> The key symptom to watch for here, is marginalisation, stereotyping and scapegoating of the marginalised. That is, when inequity and resulting tendencies to unsustainable management of resources and hazards prevail in a community, it will usually show itself in attempts to entrench and legitimise marginalisation.

9 --> As a result, the breakthrough to a more sustainable path will reach tipping point when there is a genuine empowering of the margins of the society, and when there is a moving away from the politics of polarisation to a growing sense of community that requires a fair deal for all. (Unfortunately, this also tends to be co-opted as rhetoric for the old polarisation game, perhaps with new factions in the halls of power. A key symptom of this will be if the rhetoric of polarisation and demonisation of or contempt towards target groups continues to be dominant.)

10 -->  In that context, we can then focus the issue of sustainability of development policy in general and of resource and hazard management in particular:

11 --> Here, a change agent group or consultancy that has reasonable backing and sponsorship that lends credibility may initiate a process of stakeholder identification and awareness, perhaps in response to some major concern or issue or event. Thus, a reasonable cross-section of stakeholders may be mobilised to begin to come together and reflect on the situation that faces a comunity:

a: A survey of environment factors and trends may lead to highlighting some as Opportunities and threats across a reasonable period of concern. 

b: Opportunities require resources and threats traceable to natural sources will come from hazards, for instance

c: Strengths and weaknesses of the relevant groups, organisations, institutions or even the community as a whole may be identified.

d: In that context, the current situation -- business as usual -- can be analysed and projected across time to its likely outcomes . . . the expected future.

e: This will typically have significant sustainability and hazard vulnerability challenges, and resources are particularly prone to abuse, misuse, squandering and marginalising behaviour.

f: Initially as a rough outline exercise, an alternative thar is more sustainable, and more robust in the face of hazards, may be outlined through stakeholder inputs facilitated by the change agents.

g: Ideas will need to be encouraged, but also after a time, there is need to assess ideas relative to feasibility and likely outcomes.

h: A useful filtering framework, is "Build on strengths, exploit opportunities, counter threats and compensate for (or, if possible correct) weaknesses."

i: The projected more desirable outcome may be identifiable, at least as to an outline sketch comparable to the expected future.

j: A comparison will yield differences, a so-called gap analysis.

k: Where such gaps can reasonably be closed, that then motivates a change programme with a change strategy.

l: Such, as a rule would begin with a more detailed examination and development of a framework, with creation of a governance structure based on a "critical mass" of stakeholders, resource people, sponsors, support groups, etc. (Of course, all of this can be subverted in service to destructive agendas, so a warning should be noted here.)

m: An effective way to go is to organise a programme, based on waves of projects and support facilities and staff with funding that undertakes initial projects then through success by picking low hanging fruit and building capacity, momentum will build like a snowball rolling downhill.
12 --> One danger here, is of course, that a snowballing process can easily go out of control and turn into a destructive avalanche (the fate of too many revolutions to name just now as extreme and ruthless factions seized control):

13 --> Similarly, we must not forget that business as usual has that name for a reason . . . it is the net result of existing balances of power and factions in a community. If such factions find themselves threatened, they may mobilise resources to attack, marginalise and discredit.

14 --> That is why it is wise to slowly build credibility and a network until one has critical mass before taking on such challenges. Moving from margins to centre and starting with capacity building projects that provide definite benefits and show what may thereafter happen, therefore will often be wise.

15 --> An obvious area to target is sufficient media presence to have a support base when the attacks come. And, if power factions are there that benefit from marginalisation, such attacks are all but inevitable.

16 --> Eventually, one will have to deal with government. The trick there is to make reasonable compromises without destroying the core integrity of the change dynamic, and without being captured by power agendas that have questionable agendas.

17 --> Which, admittedly, is hard. 
(NB: Cf. Capacity focus, 77, in this overall series, to see a framework for developing a simulation/ gaming exercise that can be used to help build an understanding, strategic insight and even in planing.)

18 --> But if the job so far has been done right, there will be a growing awareness and agreement across the community on the importance of the natural resources and hazards management issues, and on the need for reforms in interests of fairness and better meeting the needs of people, in a general sustainability framework; as well as on who has earned credibility to be taken seriously as leaders and advisers on how to carry the process forward.


So, we can see a way forward, but one that is not without pitfalls and challenges.

Welcome to the real world.

And, we are back to the challenge: why not here, why not now, why not us? END