GENEVA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The world is still not doing enough to protect people from disasters and prevent them happening, despite taking steps in the right direction in recent years, senior officials told an international conference in Geneva this week.
The meeting is discussing progress on a 10-year global plan to reduce disaster risk, known as the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), and the shape of a new pact that will succeed it in 2015.
Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner for aid and crisis response, said "Mother Nature" is "hammering us with much stronger force than before" and "the wake-up call comes from there”.
Efforts to reduce the risk of disasters are heading in the right direction, but need to speed up, she said.
"I think we have to inject more sense of urgency and determination for the post-Hyogo process, and to...make sure that disaster risk reduction is everybody’s business,” she told journalists on Wednesday.
In an interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation, Bekele Geleta, secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said governments have made some improvements in preparing for disasters.
“Awareness is developing, and commitments are gradually being taken up, but not enough is being done. Disasters are hitting in a big way,” he said, adding they are likely to get worse without fresh effort.
In a speech to the conference, Geleta noted that, at the 2009 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, states committed to increasing their funding for disaster risk reduction to 10 percent of their humanitarian aid budgets, but have yet to deliver on this.
Data analysed by Development Initiatives shows that the 23 richest countries and the European Union invested only 3.4 percent of their humanitarian spending in disaster prevention and preparedness in 2010, down from 4 percent in 2009.
“The more we spend on preparedness, risk reduction and resilience, the less we will be spending on the response side," said Geleta.
The IFRC and its national societies will press governments to meet the 10 percent goal, and would like to see a "binding commitment of a minimum of 10 percent" of aid to go to disaster risk reduction in the 2015 framework for action, added the Red Cross head.
'NOT SO SEXY'
Georgieva stressed that the European Commission is now channelling more resources into efforts to build resilience in countries prone to disasters, including drought. Food crises in the Horn of Africa and West Africa's Sahel region in the past three years have acted as a spur, with her department planning to spend around 1.78 billion euros ($2.29 billion) on major programmes to help people withstand shocks in these two parts of the continent.
Nearly 20 percent of the commission's humanitarian funding is now going to work that boosts resilience, and although the proportion is lower for development, it is likely to increase, Georgieva added.
"The pyramid is still upside down - we still fund much more in response than in preparedness and prevention," she said. "Response is sexy, it grabs headlines, preparedness is not so sexy."
This is often given as a reason why governments have failed to put more money into risk reduction, despite knowing it is cheaper to avoid a disaster than providing emergency aid and rebuilding once it has hit.
Jan Eliasson, United Nations deputy secretary-general, said it often takes a major disaster to push politicians to act. Hundreds of thousands of deaths from cyclones in Bangladesh last century drove the government to build evacuation shelters and put warning systems in place, resulting in far fewer deaths now. And in Haiti, after a 2010 earthquake destroyed much of the capital, the emphasis is now on building more resilient structures, he said.
“Prevention is quite a challenge because there is no really reward for prevention...It is very hard to get something done unless you have something triggering it, and I think from a human perspective, that is very sad,” he told reporters this week.
“We live in a time now of huge natural disasters which are made worse by climate change – we also unfortunately have to admit that there is a manmade component in making these disasters even worse, that's why we have to accept responsibility...the people are paying a very heavy price," he said.
Economic losses from disasters are also rising fast and have been underestimated, a report from the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said last week.
“Now I have the feeling that...really people have started to understand that this is costing every one of us,” said Tarja Halonen, former president of Finland.
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