Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mobilizing Informal Workers for Urban Resilience: Linking Poverty Alleviation and Disaster Preparedness

I. Introducton

Cooperatives and associations of informal sector workers could become key players in global efforts to alleviate extreme poverty and enhance disaster resilience in urban slums and informal settlements.

By engaging these worker-led organizations in community-based efforts to reduce disaster risk, the urban poor who live in informal settlements and work informal jobs can exert their collective power to overcome their social and economic marginalizaton.

Such a strategy can build safer communities and lead to the extension of worker rights and social protections to those toiling in the informal economy.

Two landmark global initatives - the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to alleviate extreme poverty and the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) to reduce the risk of disasters - expire in 2015.

The United Nations is working with its member countries and international non-governmental organizations to create a new development agenda and disaster resilience framework to succeed these global efforts.

While the original MDGs and HFA initiatives developed independently, the successor initiatives to reduce poverty and disaster losses are linked. As the world has learned, in a matter of seconds, a disaster can reduce to rubble the development achievements built over decades.

Development assistance and disaster response in the 21st century face three related challenges that require an integrated approach.

First, as the world continues to urbanize, more people and assets are locating in disaster-prone cities. Second, disasters and extreme weather events are increasing in the severity and frequency, owing to climate change. Finally, the majority of the new city-dwellers are living in slums and informal settlements and working in the informal economy, creating a double exposure in which both their lives and livelihoods are at risk.

In its report, Plan of Action on Disaster Risk Reduction for Resilience, the United Nations has concluded the foundation of sustainable development is community resilience that “integrates poverty reduction, disaster risk reduction, sustainable livelihoods and climate change adaptation” (UN, 2013, p.7).

The UN’s global initiatives recognize the nature of poverty is changing as the world continues to urbanize. Poor city residents live in hazardous informal settlements because of the low costs of housing and proximity to informal sector work.

To ply their trade, informal workers must navigate an urban environment where fines, eviction and harassment are a daily threat, only to receive poverty‐level wages.

Governments frequently refuse to recognize informal employment or informal settlements, and withhold a social safety net that would allow them to ride out a shock.

In addition, local authorities often fail to provide basic services and infrastructure that could protect their homes, assets and livelihoods.

This policy brief builds on the UN’s call for community‐based disaster risk reduction, arguing the urban poor who live in informal settlements and work informal jobs can become key actors in the development of disaster resilient communities.

This strategy relies upon the agency of the slum dwellers and informal workers themselves to overcome the political marginalization that contributes to their vulnerability to disasters.

By engaging membership‐based organizations of informal workers in efforts to reduce disaster risk, local government can scale up efforts to enhance community resilience.

More importantly, workers in the informal economy become agents of change, not recipients of development aid, transforming their precarious jobs into what the International Labour Organization defines as “decent work,” that provides a fair income, job security and social protection, and promotes social dialogue (ILO, 2007).

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