UN All-Nighter Concludes World Disaster Risk Plan

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It doesn’t mean we can all breathe a sigh of relief about climate change, but last week over 6,500 people, including 2,800 reps of 187 governments, significantly redefined a global approach to regional and world disasters.

Economic and human impact of the past decade of disasters (un.org)

Following the recent UN climate meeting pattern of late nights and a lengthy (30-hour) bargaining session at the end, the delegates gathered in Japan have crafted and approved the Sendai Declaration and Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. This authoritative agreement will work over the next 15 years to protect countries most vulnerable to disasters and substantially reduce associated deaths and economic loss.

The Sendai meeting leads off a series of major global gatherings slated for 2015 to develop a post-2015 agenda that will advance development and tackle climate change. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on the opening day, “Sustainability starts in Sendai.”

  • In July, world leaders will meet in Addis Ababa to discuss development financing.
  • A new sustainable development agenda is on tap in New York in September.
  • The year’s work will culminate in Paris in December with the UNFCCC’s final drive toward a binding climate change agreement for 2020 implementation.

Number of people affected by disaster types (relief web.int)The agreement delegates just made in Sendai succeeds the expiring voluntary 10-year Hyogo Framework for disaster reduction, which was agreed on by the community of nations at Kobe, Hyogo, Japan, in 2005. In the decade between agreements, The Guardian points out, more than 700,000 people have lost their lives, and at least 20 times that number were affected by disasters. A Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters report has tracked these statistics (see graphics). Total economic losses topped $1.3 trillion.

Top 10 countries reporting disaster-related economic losses (relief web.int)

Jacobo Ocharan, head of disaster risk reduction for Plan International, elaborates on the Sendai agreement to Devex’s Lean Alfred Santos:

“The new framework builds on the expiring [one]. The first 10 years has been successful in achieving what we say [is] a culture of disaster risk reduction. We are saying that most of the countries are accepting now that risks can be reduced, and that there’s a need to mainstream national policies to lessen the risk for the current and new population.”

Päivi Kairamo from Finland, conference co-chair, explains the four 2015-2030 targets that emerged from the meeting:

“Delegates have taken into account the experience gained through implementation of the current Hyogo Framework for Action. We have agreed on four priorities for action focussed on a better understanding of risk, strengthened disaster risk governance, and more investment. A final priority calls for more effective disaster preparedness and embedding the ‘build back better’ principle into recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.”

The framework also highlights the goal of “building back better”—especially appropriate in light of the ongoing post-Haiyan recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction in the Philippines and the situation in Vanuatu, battered by Cyclone Pam as the conference took place. Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, accented the latter event: “Only this week, the cyclone in the Pacific remind[s] us all of the considerable dangers we are facing.”

In essence, the framework targets seven global changes to be achieved over the next 15 years:

  • A substantial reduction in global disaster mortality;
  • A substantial reduction in numbers of affected people;
  • A reduction in economic losses in relation to global GDP;
  • Substantial reduction in disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, including health and education facilities;
  • An increase in the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020;
  • Enhanced international cooperation; and
  • Increased access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments.

Reaction to the Sendai Framework has ranged from welcome to sharp disappointment. The European Union has this response: “The road to Sendai turned out to be somewhat winding as negotiations on a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction came to an end….”

Walter Kälin of the Brookings Institution feels that it has fallen somewhat short of expectations but is a definite step forward. 

Kälin comments:

“Much of the Sendai Framework deals with preventing natural and other hazards becoming disasters by reducing associated risks. In this regard, measures such as (1) developing and disseminating risk maps to communities at risk and to develop policies addressing identified risks; (2) to prevent people to move into risk zones or relocating communities already living in such zones; and (3) to prepare for evacuations are particularly important.”

Fourth, he states, with regard to protecting internally displaced persons, the framework underlines the need to ensure “rapid and effective response to disasters and related displacement, including access to safe shelter, essential food and non-food relief supplies.” It also addresses trans-boundary cooperation in cross-border displacement of residents of areas with common ecosystems like river basins or coastlines.

Kälin contrasts this aspect of the new compact with that of its Hyogo predecessor, which only contained a passing reference to displacement. He also credits negotiators from Bangladesh, Norway, the Philippines, and Switzerland for moving the discussions along.

Scott Paul, Oxfam’s senior humanitarian policy adviser, sees the Sendai framework as a “set of half-measures that will not keep pace with [the] rapidly rising disaster risk around the world…. Leaders have built this framework around a set of flimsy, unambitious targets that will not galvanize bold action or create meaningful accountability.”

Maggie Ibrahim, World Vision UK’s resilience manager, is satisfied that the Sendai conference highlighted issues affecting disabled people, women, and children in disasters. However, she also says the agreement will not equip vulnerable people with the resources and tools to build the skills they need. The Guardian questions the viability of program funding.

In all, however, Margareta Wahlström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, seems to express the sense of the conference here:

Margareta Wahlström, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (un.org)
Margareta Wahlström, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (un.org)

“The adoption of this new framework for disaster risk reduction opens a major new chapter in sustainable development, as it outlines clear targets and priorities for action which will lead to a substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods, and health.”

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