ReTHINK: A Twenty-First Century Approach to Preventing Societal Catastrophes

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Second, as international realists would expect, the federal government has been true to its responsibility to promote and protect the interests of the state. As one of the first analyses of Canadian development assistance policy argued in Philanthropy is plainly no more than a fickle and confused policy stimulant, derived exclusively from personal conscience.

It is not an objective of government. Love for mankind is a virtue of the human heart, an emotion which can stir only individuals — never bureaucracies or institutions. Governments exist only to promote the public good; and, as a result, they must act purely in the selfish interest of the state they serve. Altruism as foreign policy is a misnomer, even if sometimes the fruits of policy are incidentally beneficial to foreigners. Spicer , Organized groups of humans have mandates that are ruthlessly exclusive, and their members generally have a well-developed sense of their obligations to the group.

In particular, they are able and prone to distinguish between their personal sentiments and their positions as officials of organizations. Nossal , 35— But it is limited, nonetheless. A lack of the kind of ethical obligation to other peoples that leads to meaningful and altruistic concrete action follows inexorably Nossal , 49— Here are three:.

Put another way, if humane internationalists simply accept that international realists will never be convinced that altruism should drive public policy, they will soon recognize opportunities for cooperation and collaboration to support shared goals that have been neglected for much too long. Admittedly, doing so might temporarily hurt the ability of certain organizations to raise much-needed money. In the long run, however, a more strategic approach to public education that aims to break the links that so many Canadians make between charity and development assistance will enable the humane internationalist movement to cultivate more sustainable popular support for causes that it holds dear.

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While the tendency within the humane internationalist movement has been to try to build support from the ground up, and steady public sympathy will be necessary to ensure a long-term government commitment to an effective, sustainable poverty reduction program Otter , for now, it might be prudent to focus advocacy and education efforts on the political elite. In that spirit, rather than merely criticizing the decision to merge, humane internationalists might focus on practical proposals to help shape the new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development in a manner that preserves and protects the poverty reduction mandate of the old development agency.

Rather than persisting in an effort that seems doomed to disappoint, it is time to refashion the campaign to reflect better the contemporary challenges and opportunities of promoting sustainable poverty reduction and emergency relief programs around the world. The solution is not to abandon altruism in its entirety. Rather, it is to concede that as an advocacy strategy, humane internationalism has never succeeded in altering realist thinking.

Anderson, Mary B. Black, David, and Molly den Heyer. Bovin, Jean, and Miguel Angel Martinez. Public Attitudes and International Development Co-operation. Paris: OECD: 7. Brown, Stephen. Canadian Press. February Accessed February 15, Chapnick, Adam.

rethink a twenty first century approach to preventing societal catastrophes Manual

De Jong, Sara. Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press: 21— Environics Institute. Focus Canada Accessed May 29, Accessed May 28, Fechter, Anne-Meike.


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Understanding Public Attitudes to Aid and Development. Government of Canada. Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services. Gulrajani, Nilima. March Lindstrom, Johanna, and Spencer Henson.

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Short of the most cataclysmic and unexpected disasters, developed communities would adjust and move on. It was more difficult to predict the effect of new and uncertain risks such as terrorism particularly involving weapons of mass destruction and systems failure. The practitioners around the table had to admit that, for all the good work being done to face up to identifiable risks, it was difficult to plan and prepare for high-impact and linked catastrophes of unpredictable probability and our systems would not be able to cope if they had simultaneously to face two such threats.

In this context we spent some time on the interconnectedness of our modern infrastructure and communications systems. A cascade of collapses from accident or attack was bound to be a risk in a highly tuned and interlinked structure. It was even possible that the careful engineering of defences to respond to short-term threats for instance, the raising of levies along a river to make a valley more habitable could enlarge the disaster when the storm of the century happened.

The same trend could be seen in the field of communications technology, the power of which was increasing exponentially, but with the risk of creating a fragility of unknown dimensions. Having raised these disturbing spectres, we turned to prevention and protection. The government practitioners amongst us explained their rational approach, involving forward assessment of the reduction of risk where possible, plans to improve infrastructures and systems and strategies for keeping the public informed.

The American approach revolved around preparation, integration, coordination.


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Yet these concepts tended to bring us back to integrated failure as well as success. Vulnerability was a constantly shifting attribute whose dynamics had to be understood in depth. Nor was it clear to what extent government should take the whole responsibility for prevention and protection, and to what extent it should be devolved to local communities and individuals. Many participants felt that the resilience of infrastructure should be a central responsibility, while survival of a massive disaster might have to be devolved to the local level. In a country like the United Kingdom, with much of its infrastructure in private-sector hands governed by light-touch economic regulation, there were particular concerns over how resilience was to be achieved across the national infrastructure as a whole.

An interesting way of deciding on this division of functions could be to consider what was really worth funding, at what level. Local funds would not be allocated for any response to terrorism, but might be more relevant for the response to natural disasters. Perhaps governments should be encouraged to provide guidance, training, exercises and resources for local communities to deal with the things that could be reasonably predicted. This would have the added benefit of spreading information more fully through the public domain, because democratic decisions would be needed on the allocation of resources.

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It was also suggested that the assigning of clearer responsibilities for what could be predicted would prepare communities better for the unpredictable. The discussion touched on the economics of disaster prevention and response.


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  7. Surely it was sensible to build economic incentives for behaviour which made catastrophe less probable or more survivable. An example given was insurance policies for flood plains or low-lying coastal areas. At a broader level, communities with better resilience policies might attract more investment than others.

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    This concept of competitive advantage was likely to develop further as the responses to climate change clicked in. Greater awareness of the effects of disaster might give a greater value to resilience in the future, building networks of information-sharing and policy-making, particularly if professionals in governments exchanged experience and best practice at the international level.

    This led us on to international cooperation. We heard about the progress being made within the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction ISDR , which had already gone a significant way in defining how cross border cooperation should work, involving a strategic framework, professional networking and an umbrella body at the global level. It was quickly noted, however, that the design and theory of an international strategy was some way ahead of implementation.

    Should we move on from restoration?

    Indeed, the responses from participants in this conference suggested that the first step — knowledge amongst the practitioner community of the work of the ISDR — had yet to be achieved. The key to realising the effectiveness of ISDR had to be to address the unwillingness of national governments to commit resources to a collective approach. Differences in culture, interests, risk responses, government capabilities and information-sharing all raised barriers to effective coordination. These issues were nevertheless being addressed with some success in certain areas, of which the work of the WHO on international health policy was perhaps the most advanced.

    The way SARS had been handled was an indication of this. But it was critical that resources and political will had not yet been adequately committed. If governments could not manage to respond just to the logic of sensible cooperation, then perhaps opportunities needed to be seized when disasters actually happened. The Indian Ocean tsunami was mentioned as an illustration.

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