Andrew Maskrey says “what you can’t measure you can’t manage”

Andrew Maskrey is Chief of Risk Knowledge at the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and joined the GCCA+ Global Learning Event to share his vast experience on Theme 4: Risk management solutions and tools as a response to the adverse effects of climate change.

What were the main points you wanted people to take home from your presentation today?

The main point is we need to understand the risks and that means measuring them; what you can’t measure you can’t manage. Putting figures to this is really critical if you then expect to have a dialogue with, in my case, policy-makers … If you waltz into a government ministry and say ‘you have a problem with climate change’ but you can’t dimension the problem or put figures to it, it’s very difficult to move to the next phase, which is thinking about alternatives and policy options. 

What lessons can be taken from, for example, small-scale projects?

This whole thing has to get down to the local level ... If you don’t actually get local communities and governments involved, you can end up with nice policy declarations, strategies and plans at national level which end up as just paper on shelves. And there has to be commitment and support from national governments otherwise a lot of local initiatives could end up being short-lived. We don’t know if they’re actually sustainable. All this has to get into the core of economic decision-making (public and private). Thinking of climate change adaptation, or disaster risk reduction for that matter, as separate sectors on the outskirts of government, with the mainstream part doing business as usual, then what you have is a nice, elaborate sideshow.

Climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction are really part of a bigger thing called development. If we understood that properly, we’d say good development, by its nature, would have to take risks into account to manage them. A very important part of the risks is climate change, so really we should be able to just use the word ‘development’ … unfortunately we seem to have made the problem far more complex than it needs to be.   

What trends are you observing in disaster risk management?

On the level of strategies, policies and plans that ‘say the right things’, there’s been huge strides forward over the last 20 years. Most countries have completely redone legislation, policies and institutions, with names that sound as though they’re doing the right thing – how much impact that’s actually had on the ground, one doubts. If you say you’re doing the right thing but the losses are continuing to go up, then there is a contradiction between what you’re saying and doing. Where we need to focus attention is actually on the contradiction … if we don’t resolve that we don’t resolve the problem.

What are you personally hoping to learn from the GLE?

I’m always interested in picking up what people are doing in the field. Otherwise you end up in an ivory tower. Also there’s a disjunction between what’s happening on the disaster reduction side and the climate change side. It’s always interesting with this kind of cross-over and learning from the others. For learning, the worst thing you can do is reinforce what people already think they know. We need to take them to some other place where they’ve never been, and they can look at their problems from a completely different angle. That’s what learning is all about … challenging!