Disaster Mitigation and Management
    The Precautionary Principle and Community-based Disaster Management

    Hari Srinivas
    Concept Note Series E-025. June 2015.

    The “Precautionary Principle” is a well know approach to prevent/reduce negative impacts on the ecology, and in developing good governance practices at the local level. roadly interpreted, the precautionary principle requires that decisions by governments, institutions and individuals need to allow for and recognise conditions of uncertainty, particularly with respect to the possible environmental consequences of those decisions, and to act to prevent or avoid effects which may be damaging even if this cannot be proven.

    “ … lack of scientific certainty is no reason to postpone action to avoid potentially serious or irreversible harm to the environment.”

    The precautionary principle cover a number of aspects, including preventative anticipation, safe-guarding of ecological space, proportionality of response, duty of care, promoting the cause of intrinsic natural rights, paying for past ecological debt, etc.

    These are explored below in terms of its implications on community-based disaster management (CBDM).

    Preventative anticipation

    ... is a willingness to take action in advance of evidence of the need for the proposed action on the grounds that further delay will prove ultimately most costly to society and nature, and, in the longer term, selfish and unfair to future generations.

    Safegaurding of ecological space

    ... or environmental room for manoeuvre as a recognition that margins of tolerance should not even be approached, let alone breached.

    Proportionality of response

    ... or cost-effectiveness of margins of error to show that the selected degree of restraint is not unduly costly.

    Duty of care

    ... or onus of proof on those who propose change: this raises profound questions over the degree of freedom to take calculated risks, thereby to innovate, and to compensate for possible losses by building in ameliorative measures.

    Promoting the cause of intrinsic rights

    ... where the legal notion of disaster and harm is being widened to include the need to allow natural processes to function to support all life on earth.

    Paying for past ‘disaster debt’

    ... where precaution is essentially forward looking but recognize that in the application of care, burden sharing, cost effectiveness, there ought to be a penalty for not being cautious or caring in the past.
Do you have any suggestions or additions to make on the above information? Please send an email to Hari Srinivas at hsrinivas@gdrc.org

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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org