GENEVA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Work on reducing the risk of disasters cannot be separated from efforts to tackle climate change and to move towards more sustainable development, an international conference on disaster risk reduction agreed this week.
A draft summary of proceedings at the fourth Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction noted "a consistent call that disaster risk must be overtly recognised" in a new set of development targets that are due to replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015.
"Governments should take a strong lead to ensure that disaster risk is well recognised and systematically incorporated in sustainable development goals," the summary said, without giving more details on how this should be done.
"By investing in disaster risk reduction we are laying the basis for better development," Jan Eliasson, U.N. deputy secretary-general, told reporters earlier in the week. "I would claim that disaster risk reduction has to be part of the (post-2015) development agenda because it is the poor, it is the most vulnerable who are most affected."
Disasters are not one of the 11 themes in the ongoing "World We Want" consultations on a future global development vision, and the latest communique from a high-level panel dedicated to it mentions only briefly the need to "strengthen resilience, and improve disaster preparedness capacities" under a section on protecting the global environment.
Tanzania's environment minister, Terezya Huvisa, told the closing session of the Geneva conference - attended by over 3,500 participants from 173 countries - that many countries are still far behind in making the links between adapting to climate change, pursuing greener development and protecting people from disasters.
"We can't separate climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction because they share common goals," she said.
On Tuesday, Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told journalists changes are taking place in the Earth's weather and climate "that we need to be concerned about". The worrying effects include a rise in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves, as well as extreme precipitation and rising seas, he said.
"We have to put in place adaptation measures," he urged, noting that where efforts have been made to protect people - from cyclones in Bangladesh, for example - the loss of life and property is much less.
LACK OF IMPLEMENTATION
While the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), adopted by 168 countries in 2005, has pushed the issue of disaster risk reduction higher up the agenda of governments, Huvisa told the conference that many national plans remain on paper. "There is a huge gap between plans and implementation," she said.
A progress report, released by the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) on Thursday, said 121 countries have enacted legislation to establish policy and legal frameworks for disaster risk reduction and 85 countries have set up national coordinating bodies for disaster risk reduction.
But at the same time, it pointed to a lack of human, technical and financial resources for putting policies into practice, with insufficient funding identified as the main barrier. That is hindering the development of everything from early warning systems to school education on disasters, the report said.
Margareta Wahlstrom, the head of UNISDR, noted there had been some discussion about using more development assistance for disaster risk reduction.
Data shows that development aid is failing to match international recommendations that at least 1 percent of official development assistance be spent on disaster risk reduction (DRR). During the 2006-2010 period, only 0.5 percent was spent in that way. Similarly, the proportion of humanitarian aid spent on DRR is consistently lower than 5 percent, despite states promising at the 2009 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction to increase this to 10 percent.
The Red Cross movement pushed at this week's meeting for a binding commitment to a 10 percent spending goal, but this did not appear to garner widespread support among governments, and was not included in the draft summary of the event.
The Global Platform flagged up key issues that are likely to shape the next framework for action, which is due to be agreed in 2015 and known as HFA2. "It is expected that the HFA2 will recognise the need to govern disaster risk reduction and resilience with clear responsibilities, enable local action, address climate risk and recognise a central role for science," the summary said.
The conference also requested that work should start immediately on developing targets and indicators to monitor the reduction of risk, to be led by UNISDR.
"There are calls for measuring ourselves much more - we would like standards to help us - to understand what level of aspiration we should have," Wahlstrom said. "(HFA2) will be about trying to project more concretely what are the risks that cities and communities face for the future?"
REDUCING RISKS TO SCHOOLS
Earlier in the week, a high-level dialogue, which brought representatives from 35 governments together with business executives and senior experts, proposed that countries should develop nationally agreed standards to assess the risk of hazards to critical infrastructure, including schools, health centres, and electricity and water supply systems.
It also recommended launching a global safe schools and safe health structures campaign in disaster-prone areas, with voluntary funding and commitments to be announced at the third World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan in 2015.
"Who can forget the shocking fact that 97 percent of the schools in Port-au-Prince collapsed in the 2010 (Haiti) earthquake? It is of huge concern that the lives and education of millions of children living in seismic zones and flood plains around the world are at risk," Eliasson said. "Hazard risk assessments are essential before investing in critical infrastructure which can lead to loss of lives if not disaster-proof."