Vientiane 29 January 2019 - In disaster situations the needs of the victims are usually vast and varied. Time and resources dedicated to these needs, however, are limited. Under such circumstances, it is crucial that the assistance provided is targeted well and avoids duplication of effort.  Communication is key, as the success of relief operations depends on all the involved actors constantly talking to each other. Optimally the interaction will continue for an extended period of time to ensure that the results of the work done are long-lasting.

This is why the concept of the New Way of Working was discussed at the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016. To put it simply, the New Way of Working means that different development and humanitarian actors, such as national governments, international non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations and private sector representatives commit to coordination and cooperation to achieve the goals they have jointly set for themselves.

In disaster situations, for example, the New Way of Working could be applied by different stakeholders discussing how the situation would ideally look like after completion of relief efforts. After that they would collectively determine what measures have to be taken to realize this ideal, and they would meet regularly to evaluate the progress of the agreed interventions.

Flood victims escaping to safety in Attapeu Province of Lao PDR.

From delivering aid to ending need in Lao PDR

Since the end of last year, the New Way of Working has been put into practice in Lao PDR. Three consecutive tropical storms – Son-Tinh, Bebinca and Bajirat – resulted in severe flooding in each of the country’s 18 provinces between July and September 2018. 443,050 people around the country were affected and over 115,000 paddy fields, 670 kilometres of roads and 47 bridges were damaged by the historically devastating floods. Tens of thousands of people temporarily lost their jobs, the functioning of essential services was hampered and the possibility of widescale malnutrition haunted the entire country.

In the aftermath of the disaster, the New Way of Working was immediately employed, when the government and dozens of its development partners conducted a Post-Disaster Needs Assessment. The results of the Assessment showed that the focus of relief operations should not only be on meeting the immediate needs of the flood victims, but also on building the country’s long-term resilience to climate change induced disasters. Otherwise, comparable disasters would cause similar countrywide crisis situations in the future.

To prevent this from happening and to ensure that collective outcomes are met, four UN agencies – FAO, UNDP, WFP, WHO – submitted a joint funding application to the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). Together with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Lao PDR, these four agencies are currently implementing a US$3.5 million grant they received to help flood victims in Khammouane Province.

UNDP’s ongoing interventions focus on securing livelihoods, repairing damaged infrastructure and raising awareness for the dangers of unexploded ordnance (UXO). This is currently being done through cash for work programmes in 21 villages in five districts of the province. Flood victims have been given an opportunity to repair roads, bridges and irrigation channels in their communities for cash compensation. This will not only improve the villagers’ access to hospitals, schools, markets and other essential services, but it will also provide a source of income for around 5000 flood victims who temporarily lost their livelihoods as a result of the floods. Because floods may have shifted unexploded cluster munitions to areas of the province that were previously considered safe, villagers in high-risk communities will receive mine risk education.

In the spirit of the New Way of Working, all these actions are being taken after thorough consultations with the government and the other implementing agencies. As a result, the interventions do not only respond to the immediate needs of the victims, but also contribute to the aims of the other agencies and build the communities’ long-term resilience to natural disasters.

Female beneficiaries of UNDP's cash for work program in Khammouane Province

The role of businesses in disaster risk reduction

Despite the exemplary ways in which the New Way of Working has been applied in Lao PDR, there is another set of partnerships that has to be strengthened to ensure the country’s sustainable development: The role of the private sector in overcoming both local and global challenges should not be overlooked.

Climate change and natural disasters resulting from it are unquestionably fueled by uncoordinated and unsustainable use of natural resources. While it is the responsibility of governments to curb these unsustainable practices, we need to create incentives that will encourage private enterprises to contribute to solving development challenges.

Lao PDR has already taken some promising steps in this regard by partnering with local telecommunications operators in the aftermath of the floods. These companies are currently helping the government in installing early warning systems via text messaging in areas of the country that are particularly vulnerable to climate disasters. Such a strategy is innovative as it provides the private companies with new avenues for business, while simultaneously helping the most marginalized people in the country.

This is precisely the kind of creativity that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development demands for its goals to be reached. Finding new ways of working does not necessarily mean revolutionizing the work you do, but who you do it with. As our world faces unusually difficult challenges, overcoming them will most likely also require the forming of unusual alliances, even between actors that have traditionally considered to have conflicting interests.

Gerson Brandão is the Disaster Risk Management Advisor with the UNDP in Lao PDR. He started his career at the United Nations in 2006. During his extensive career he has worked in disaster and conflict situations in countries around the world, including Bangladesh, Colombia, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Sri Lanka.
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