Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sacred Cows of Cancun (and some elephants in the room)

The Sendai Framework for DRR, like the SDGs and the Paris Agreement, represents a successful global negotiation leading to a commitment to address pressing issues for humanity. This week we gather at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun to talk about the move from "commitment to action."

While we should appreciate the goals that are aspired to, and the intention behind them, it would be remiss of us to exclude the promoted strategies to achieve success from critique. Shouldn't we be willing to listen to and respond to criticisms, particularly with such vital outcomes at stake?

We have heard a lot about action this week. Have we really taken action though? Is it the right action? Private sector engagement. Innovation. Technology. Entrepreneurship. Growth. 

Certain assumptions and voluntary blind spots are required in order to promote this approach to "taking action" with little or no debate. Therefore I have put together the following (slightly tongue in cheek) list of issues that I feel a) are simply out of bounds in polite DRR conversation or b) we ignore for convenience.

Sacred Cows of Cancun
  1. Economic Growth - we are still attached to the idea that economic growth is essential. Should we measure success differently? Particularly when we consider 2.
  2. Limitless Consumption - we deny the reality of a finite planet and put all of our eggs in the "decoupling" basket.
Elephants in the Room
  1. Absolute Corporate Power - we have seen a great transfer of power to the private sector. Is this the world that we want to live in? We will see some gains through philanthropy perhaps, but is it worth it? 
  2. Neoliberalism is Failing - 2016 showed a dramatic loss of trust. The public can see that mooted solutions require magical thinking. The rise of reactionary politics is putting more people at risk.
  3. Usually, the Powerful Simply do Not Care - By and large, those in power demonstrate over and over that they do not care if people die, starve or suffer. This is not changing, as much as we might like it to.
We frame our collective action as a force to reduce the impacts of disaster; and more broadly to fight against poverty, hunger, inequality and climate change. But what if we are still not getting to the root causes? The structural injustices? Why are people poor, hungry, marginalised and vulnerable to disasters? 

We might approach these problems with the assumption that our solutions must honour the Sacred Cows and ignore the Elephants. We might double down on failed strategies because we are afraid of challenging the status quo. The academic community has become as inept as the political class at working for the common good, when it demands radical thinking. That cannot continue.

This week we should be having a frank discussion about the uncomfortable issues. Everything is NOT going great. We do NOT have it under control. Radical thinking IS required. 

We need to resist before it is too late. 


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