Step 1: Appoint a National Drought Commission

The process for creating a national drought management policy should begin with the establishment of a national commission to oversee and facilitate policy development. Given the complexities of drought as a hazard, and the cross-cutting nature of managing all aspects of monitoring, early warning, impact assessment, response, mitigation, and planning, it is critical to coordinate and integrate the activities of the many agencies/ministries of government at all levels; the private sector, including key stakeholder groups; and civil society. To ensure a coordinated process, the president/prime minister or other key political leader must take the lead in establishing a national drought policy commission. Otherwise, it may not garner the full support and participation of all relevant parties.

The purpose of the commission is twofold. First, the commission will supervise and coordinate the policy development process. This includes bringing together all of the necessary resources of the national government and integrating these resources from the various ministries and levels of government in order to develop the policy and supporting preparedness plans. By pooling the government's resources, this initial phase will likely require only minimal new resources coupled with a redirection of existing resources (e.g., financial, data, and human) in support of the process. Second, once the policy is developed, the commission will be the authority responsible for the implementation of the policy at all levels of government. The principles of this policy will be the basis for the development and implementation of preparedness or mitigation-based plans at the subnational level. In addition, the commission will be tasked with the activation of the various elements of the policy during times of drought. The commission will coordinate actions and implement mitigation and response programs or will delegate this action to governments at the subnational level. They will also initiate policy recommendations to the political leader and/or the appropriate legislature body and implement specific recommendations within the authority of the commission and the ministries represented.

The commission should reflect the multidisciplinary nature of drought and its impacts, and it should include all appropriate national government ministries. It is also appropriate to consider the inclusion of key drought experts from universities to serve either in an advisory capacity to the commission or as an official member of the body. A representative from the president's office should also be included in order to facilitate communication as well as an awareness of drought impacts, status, and actions.

It may also be appropriate to consider the inclusion of representatives from key sectors, professional associations, and environmental and public interest groups. If members of these groups are not included, an alternative would be the creation of a citizen's advisory committee composed of these representatives in order for these groups to have a voice in the policy development process and in the identification and implementation of appropriate response and mitigation actions. Having said that, representatives of these groups will also be involved in the development process for the drought preparedness plans at the state/provincial level, so their inclusion on the commission or as a separate citizen's advisory committee may be redundant.

It is also important for the commission to include a public information specialist as an expert on communication strategies. This person can formulate effective communication messages to all media. It is imperative for the commission to communicate with the media with a single voice so the message to the public is clear and concise. Because of the scientific, regional, and sectoral complexities of drought, the severity of drought and related impacts, and the wide-ranging response and mitigation programs/actions that may be involved, the public can be easily confused when information is forthcoming from multiple release points.

Given the wide range of stakeholder groups that will be involved in policy development, implementation, and activation, a public participation practitioner should be engaged. This person would be an observer or ex-officio member of the commission and regularly attend commission meetings. This person would also assist in the orchestration of many aspects of the policy development process in order to solicit input from the multitude of stakeholder groups that will be engaged. This person can also ensure that all groups, both well-funded and disadvantaged stakeholder or interest groups, are included in the process.

The composition of the membership of national drought commissions that have been engaged in the policy development process in specific countries may provide useful insights. For example, in Mexico, a national drought program was announced by President Enrique Pena Nieto on January 10, 2013. The goals of this program are early warning and early action to identify preventive actions leading to timely decisions to prevent and/or mitigate the effects of drought (see Chapter 19 in this book).

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