Recently I have had an opportunity to discuss with an NGO a forecast heavy rain event, and was reminded that many organisations, including civil society-based NGOs and local government still do not see ”saving lives” as their principal guiding obligation.

The government issues warnings, and we are waiting for them,’‘ I was told by way of paraphrasing, even though this group could identify all the shortcomings of the government system, and knew it had failed in the past. The floods came and went; causing a great deal of damage, and no warnings were issued, nor preparatory advice.

An ethical basis to the work of the NGO would perhaps have avoided this dilemma. I believe an ethical framework should surround DRR at all stages, but particularly around warnings. If so everyone in the warning chain would see their first task as ”warn people.’

In the 2012 publication by the International Red Cross: ”Community early warning systems: guiding principles” https://www.ifrc.org/PageFiles/103323/1227800-IFRC-CEWS-Guiding-Principles-EN.pdf the NGO makes it clear its job is to support governments: ”National and local governments, as described above, have an obligation to protect all residents from risk to life and health. National EWS are multi-hazard tools that governments can use to meet these obligations.”

The Red Cross says:

It is unfair to provide warnings to communities that are not equipped to act on them.

I would argue that any organisation with knowledge of warnings systems, and community behaviour, such as IFRC, and with access to best practice and experience, has an ethical obligation to make an attempt to save lives and reduce property damage, regardless of the role of the Government. An effective warning can be crafted in a way which prepares even poorly informed communities.

The Red Cross booklet is quite simply ”an ethics free zone.”

But it has 13 comprehensive ”Guiding Principles,” and many examples of best practice.

Australia in September 2018 issued its first Principles of Effective Warnings which are also comprehensive, and valuable. Download here:
https://knowledge.aidr.org.au/resources/public-information-and-warnings-handbook/

This is part of a valuable collection of warnings advice through handbooks.

There are ten ”Australian Principles” which if followed by any person or agency issuing a warning, will create an effective warning.

But again, the principles are not embedded in an ethical framework, although I know many of the people who worked on this publication, and all are highly principled, experienced and outstanding practitioners.