Disaster experts send a message from Sendai.


SendaiThe UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (UN WCDRR), held at Sendai, Japan from March 14-18 has reached its conclusion. Full particulars are available here. From half a world away, this latest WCDRR looks to have been a fruitful occasion.

One fruit was the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. The document, which only runs 25 pages, is worth the read in its entirety, but here are excerpts:

A look back at 2005-2015:

The Sendai report starts by looking back to the so-called Hyogo Framework for Action, crafted during the 2005 WCDRR held in that city. The Sendai framework also uses the Hyogo framework as a yardstick by which to assess performance over the past decade. This assessment is relatively detailed but starts off this way:

Since the adoption of the Hyogo Framework for Action in 2005, as documented in national and regional progress reports on its implementation as well as in other global reports, progress has been achieved in reducing disaster risk at local, national, regional and global levels by countries and other relevant stakeholders, leading to a decrease in mortality in the case of some hazards. Reducing disaster risk is a cost effective investment in preventing future losses. Effective disaster risk management contributes to sustainable development. Countries have enhanced their capacities in disaster risk management. International mechanisms for strategic advice, coordination and partnership development for disaster risk reduction, such as the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction and the regional platforms for disaster risk reduction, as well as other relevant international and regional forums for cooperation have been instrumental in the development of policies and strategies and the advancement of knowledge and mutual learning. Overall, the Hyogo Framework for Action has been an important instrument for raising public and institutional awareness, generating political commitment and focusing and catalysing actions by a wide range of stakeholders at all levels.

Over the same 10-year time frame, however, disasters have continued to exact a heavy toll, and as a result the well-being and safety of persons, communities and countries as a whole have been affected. Over 700 thousand people lost their lives, over 1.4 million were injured and approximately 23 million were made homeless as a result of disasters. Overall, more than 1.5 billion people were affected by disasters in various ways. Women, children and people in vulnerable situations were disproportionately affected. The total economic loss was more than $1.3 trillion. In addition, between 2008 and 2012, 144 million people were displaced by disasters. Disasters, many of which are exacerbated by climate change and increasing in frequency and intensity, significantly impede progress towards sustainable development. Evidence indicates that exposure of persons and assets in all countries has increased faster than vulnerability has decreased, thus generating new risk and a steady rise in disasters losses with a significant economic, social, health, cultural and environmental impact in the short, medium and long term, especially at the local and community level. Recurring small-scale disasters and slow-onset disasters particularly affect communities, households and small and medium-sized enterprises and constitute a high percentage of all losses. All countries — especially developing countries where the mortality and economic losses from disasters are disproportionately higher — are faced with increasing levels of possible hidden costs and challenges to meet financial and other obligations.

Expected outcome and goal:

Building on the Hyogo Framework for Action, the present framework aims to achieve the following outcome over the next 15 years:

The substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries

…To attain the expected outcome, the following goal must be pursued:

Prevent new and reduce existing disaster risk through the implementation of integrated and inclusive economic, structural, legal, social, health, cultural, educational, environmental, technological, political and institutional measures that prevent and reduce hazard exposure and vulnerability to disaster, increase preparedness for response and recovery, and thus strengthen resilience.

The pursuance of this goal requires the enhancement of the implementation capacity and capability of developing countries, in particular the least developed countries, small island developing States, landlocked developing countries and African countries, as well as middle-income countries facing specific challenges, including the mobilization of support through international cooperation for the provision of means of implementation in accordance with their national priorities.

Seven global targets:

(a) Substantially reduce global disaster mortality by 2030, aiming to lower average per 100,000 global mortality between 2020-2030 compared to 2005-2015.

(b) Substantially reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030, aiming to lower the average global figure per 100,000 between 2020-2030 compared to 2005-2015.

(c) Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.

(d) Substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030.

(e) Substantially increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020.

(f) Substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of this framework by 2030.

(g) Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030.

In the full framework document, each of these targets is linked to broader United Nations goals for sustainable development.

Priorities for action:

Taking into account the experience gained through the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action, and in pursuance of the expected outcome and goal, there is a need for focused action within and across sectors by States at local, national, regional and global levels in the following four priority areas:

  1. Understanding disaster risk;
  2. Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk;
  3. Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience;
  4. Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response, and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Again, in the Sendai framework each of the four priorities is expanded further, in extensive sections detailing actions on global and regional levels, and at national and local levels respectively.

The Sendai framework ends with a look at expected follow-up – laying out general considerations; the role of stakeholders; and means of implementation – for international organizations and global partnerships.


Some closing comments:

Japanese self-interest in disaster reduction is understandable. The tiny nation (146,000 square miles, a mere 5% of U.S. land area) sits on the famous Pacific Ring of Fire, criss-crossed by a crazy quilt of seismic zones and dotted by 26 volcanoes. Elongated and thin, and running SW-NE along the western boundary of the Pacific Ocean, their country offers an extended target for typhoons at their fullest strength. Since the start of the IDNDR, the Japanese people have suffered through the Kobe earthquake of 1995 and the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011, not to mention storms and other disasters. Some future scenarios, such as a repeat of the great Tokyo earthquake of 1923, pose trillion-dollar risks.

In response, the government and people of Japan have consistently risen to the occasion. They struggle to recover from disasters (what nation doesn’t?) but they have been strong backers of international efforts to build resilience going back more than a quarter century. Frank Press, then the president of the U.S. National Academy of Science, made the first call for what became the UN International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) at an international meeting of seismologists in Japan in the 1980’s. The Japanese hosted a Yokohama conference to mark the mid-term of the IDNDR in 1995. The Hyogo Conference followed in 2005. The rest of the world owes Japan a debt for convening these world conferences on a regular basis and for continuing commitments and actions during each interim.

Finally, the IDNDR from two decades ago was built around enthusiastic but-ill-conceived goals, calling, for example, for reductions in losses by fifty percent within the ten years of the program. The Sendai framework shows how much the field has matured. The goals are couched in terms relative to the size of populations and economy, and recognize the scale of the effort required to achieve progress. Similarly, today’s Sendai proposed actions are far more-thoroughly reasoned, and more commensurate with the real scope of the problem.

In the next post… zeroing in on one of the outcomes of Sendai that should be of special interest here in the United States.


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