Floods in August 2017 that affected nearly 40 million people across India, Nepal and Bangladesh are a strong reminder that disasters and their impacts are often not contained within any national or other jurisdictional boundaries. Even when the disaster strikes only a particular country, in most cases the impacts are felt far beyond the boundaries of that country.
One of the types of areas receiving the most attention are those that are prone to produce cross-border disaster, such as transboundary watersheds with flood hazard risks. This results in strong emphasis on transboundary governance systems, particularly between upstream and downstream areas, which in many cases stradle the diverse characteristics of urban and peri-urban areas to mitigate disaster risk and improve city resilience.
During the Ninth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9), ACCCRN discussed transboundary resilience with ISET-Vietnam, Gorakhphur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) – India, Oxfam – Nepal, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) – Nepal and Mercy Corps Indonesia. It is interesting that three of the learning are coming from transboundary coordination for flood risk reduction initiatives supported by the Global Resilience Partnership (GRP) Water Window Challenge in partnership with Z Zurich Foundation (this includes the work of ISET-Vietnam, LWR, and Mercy Corps). Despite dealing with different contexts of disaster risks, some of them are facing common challenges in promoting transboundary collaboration. The fruitful discussions resulted in the following 3 recommendations to help better manage transboundary partnership.
Form strong transboundary network
Cities are not disjointed entities; they don’t work in silos but are interconnected with their surrounding areas. It’s undeniable that a city relies on its surroundings to provide food, goods, services and vice versa. However, limited integration and collaboration across departments within and beyond the particular administrative areas could lead to failure in managing cross-border disaster risks.
How can we avoid this? We can identify mutual interests shared by all entities. Not only do different areas’ authorities have different interests, but the elements of development actors, such as government, community groups, NGO, academics, and also the business sector, also have different perspectives regarding development and therefore coordination is needed. This could be through a shared-learning dialogue, stakeholder groups having a room to voice their problems, and finding a win-win solution that works for all. This will also strengthen the social cohesion among actors having considered that they are facing the same challenges. It’s been proven that transboundary collaboration cannot work without people-to-people coordination, which is why we need to consider the importance of social capital.
Furthermore, one of the common challenges of transboundary collaboration is to ensure the sustainability of the program. What can we do to prevent these networks from stopping to operate once our programs end? One way is having diverse groups of stakeholders at the table to ensure they have ownership of it. Involve them in discussing challenges and opportunities on a coordinated platform where various stakeholders can raise their voice. We need to consider the imbalances within these platforms to ensure that citizens’ voices are brought to the table to reach the people most affected.
Use better tools, show better data
Data play a crucial part not only in advocating the importance of transboundary collaboration to the government, but also in gaining buy-in from the business sector. The use of tools such as cost-benefit analysis (CBA), geographic information system (GIS), community driven data collections etc. offers great opportunity for developing evidence and sharing information.
We need to develop sensitive approaches to figure out how to articulate the “shared-value proposition”, identify the right incentives, and learn how to speak “business language”. Where the business sector is one of the main development actors when talking about cross-border disasters, there’s a need for better understanding of how these actors perceive and act upon the risk, and whether or how they function as agents of changes to develop positive resilience activities.
Providing multiple scenarios that will happen to the business sectors if they perform an environmentally responsible approach in their business practice and what will happen if they ignore the potential risk that will result from an unsustainable approach is crucial.
This also applies to the government as the decision-making actor. Adequate information that can serve as input for the decision making process in terms of development planning and action is essential in this case. As for disaster risk reduction, it is important to have information on what the benefits look like in terms of economic valuation by investing in flood risk reduction actions, and how much damage that can be avoided, etc.
Raise awareness of climate change and resilience
Although there is growing awareness on climate change risks and resilience, we can’t deny that some important stakeholders lack understanding of climate change and resilience and this is affecting their daily practices. Discussion of this issue should also move beyond high-level groups of stakeholders, to each community in the city. Ensuring that everyone has the same understanding about these issues is crucial in getting their commitment to support the transboundary collaboration. Creating awareness on these issues can also empower communities to oversee the transboundary law enforcement by the government.
Whereas there are a lot of challenges to managing transboundary collaboration, there are also a lot of opportunities and also growing interest and understanding that the collaboration is essential. Trans-boundary collaboration will need to be backed by practical efforts if it is to transform itself from a vision-policy to practice.