In 1986, an international symposium and workshop was organized at the University of Nebraska that focused on the principal aspects of drought, ranging from prediction, early warning, and impact assessment to response, planning, and policy. The goal of this meeting was to review and assess our current knowledge of drought and determine research and information needs to improve national and international capacity to cope with drought (Wilhite and Easterling, 1987). Reflecting on this meeting today, nearly 20 years later, and its outcomes, it would seem that it may represent the beginning of the movement to a new paradigm in drought management—one focusing on reducing societal vulnerability to drought through a more proactive approach. Today, we are experiencing the impacts of drought in greater magnitude than ever before. Clearly, it has taken time for the policy community to become more aware of these impacts, their complexities, and the ineffectiveness of the reactive, postimpact or crisis management approach. The factors explaining the slow emergence of this new paradigm are many, but it is clear that it has emerged in many countries and in many international organizations dealing with disaster management and development issues. A more proactive, risk-based approach to drought management must rely on a strong sci ence component. It also must occur at the interstices of science and policy—a particularly uncomfortable place for many scientists.
Figure 1 in Chapter 6 illustrates the cycle of disaster management, depicting the interconnectedness or linkages between crisis and risk management. The traditional crisis management approach has been largely ineffective, and there are many examples of how this approach has increased vulnerability to drought because of individuals' (i.e., disaster victims') greater reliance on the emergency response programs of government and donor organizations. Drought relief or assistance, for example, often rewards the poor resource manager who has not planned for drought whereas the better resource manager who has employed appropriate mitigation tools is not eligible for this assistance. Thus, drought relief is often a disincentive for improved resource management. Should government reward good stewardship of natural resources and planning or unsustainable resource management? Unfortunately, most nations have been following the latter approach for decades because of the pressures associated with crises and the lack of preparation. Thus, relief can also mask fundamental underlying problems of governance and international policy. Redirecting this institutional inertia to a new paradigm offers considerable challenges for the science and policy communities.
As has been underscored many times by the contributors to this volume, reducing future drought risk requires a more proactive approach, one that emphasizes preparedness planning and the development of appropriate mitigation actions and programs, including improved drought monitoring and early warning. However, this approach has to be multi-thematic and multi-sectoral because of the complexities of associated impacts and their interlinkages. Risk management favorably complements the crisis management part of the disaster management cycle such that in time one would expect the magnitude of impacts (whether economic, social, or environmental) to diminish. However, the natural tendency has been for society to revert to a position of apathy once the threat accompanying a disaster subsides (i.e., the proverbial "hydro-illogical cycle"; see Figure 1 in Chapter 5).
This raises an important point that has not been addressed in detail in this publication: What constitutes a crisis? Crises are inextricably tied to decision making. The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives the following definitions of crisis: the decisive moment (as in a literary play); an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs whose outcome will make a decisive difference for better or for worse. The word crisis is taken from the Greek "krisis," which literally means "decision." A crisis may be said to be occurring if a change or cumulative impacts of changes in the external or internal environment generates a threat to basic values or desired outcomes, there is a high probability of involvement in conflict (legal, military, or otherwise), and there is awareness of a finite time for response to the external value threat. A crisis is not yet a catastrophe; it is a turning point. Crisis situations can be ameliorated if different levels of decision makers perceive critical conditions to exist and if a change of the situation is possible for the actors. Thus informed "decision making" is key to effective mitigation of crises conditions and the proactive reduction of risk to acceptable levels. Being proactive about hazard management brings into play the need for decision support tools to inform vulnerability reduction strategies, including improved capacity to use information about impending events.
A key decision support tool for crisis mitigation is embedded within the concept of "early warning." As discussed in Chapter 1 and elsewhere in this volume, early warning systems must be made up of several integrated subsystems, including (1) a monitoring subsystem; (2) a risk information subsystem; (3) a preparedness subsystem; and (4) a communication subsystem. Early warning systems are more than scientific and technical instruments for forecasting hazards and issuing alerts. They should be understood as credible and accessible information systems designed to facilitate decision making in the context of disaster management agencies (formal and informal) in a way that empowers vulnerable sectors and social groups to mitigate potential losses and damages from impending hazard events (Maskrey, 1997).
Natural hazard risk information, let alone vulnerability reduction strategies, is rarely if ever considered in development and economic policy making. Crisis scenarios can let us view risk reduction as much from the window of opportunity provided by acting before disaster happens as from the other smaller, darker pane window following a disaster. Given the slow onset and persistent nature of drought, mitigating potential impacts, in theory and in practice, must be recast as an integral part of development planning and implemented at national, regional, and local levels. Institutions responsible for responding to droughts must take a more proactive stance in assisting sectors through their own private and public institutions in preparing not only for disaster events but also in analyzing vulnerability and proposing practical pre-event mitigation actions. Impact assessment methodologies should reveal not only why vulnerability exists (who and what is at risk and why) but also the investments (economic and social) that, if chosen, will reduce vulnerability or risk to locally acceptable levels. Studies of the natural and social context of drought should include assessment of impediments to flows of knowledge and identify appropriate information entry points into policies and practices that would otherwise give rise to crisis situations (Pulwarty, 2003).
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