By Megan Rowling
SENDAI, Japan, March 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new global plan to combat disasters, scheduled to be adopted in Japan on Wednesday, contains targets to substantially lower deaths and the number of people affected over the next 15 years, as well as curb economic losses, according to a draft of the agreement.
Negotiators from 186 governments at the U.N. conference on disaster risk reduction in the city of Sendai are still haggling over controversial parts of the blueprint, which will replace the current 10-year Hyogo Framework for Action.
They have agreed on six out of seven proposed targets, said development experts sitting in on the talks as observers.
Margareta Wahlström, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation she was confident the negotiators in Sendai - which was hit by a major earthquake and tsunami in 2011 - would reach an agreement on a new non-binding plan.
"It may not be to everyone's optimum expectation, but for me what is important is that we have the disaster risk reduction part" in the 15-year agreement, she said.
Negotiators were still debating whether to mention conflict as a factor that makes people more vulnerable to disasters, and the terms on which technology - that can help with early warning or insurance, for example - should be transferred from rich to poor nations.
Another stumbling block was the thorny issue of the funding developing countries say they need from donor nations.
Wealthy governments were reluctant to make hard-and-fast commitments to boost finance in Sendai, although Japan on Saturday promised $4 billion of help over four years.
Experts welcomed the inclusion of the targets in the agreement, as they are lacking in the current framework.
But they were disappointed that earlier proposals for percentage goals had been rejected.
Instead the draft text includes aims to lower the global mortality rate from disasters between 2020 and 2030, compared to 2005 to 2015, as well as the proportion of people affected.
Another target is to reduce economic losses in relation to global GDP by 2030.
That may be difficult, new research suggested. A catastrophe modelling study from risk management firm AIR Worldwide showed there was little prospect of shrinking disaster losses from present levels of $240 billion per year.
"The study tells us that it is next to impossible to reduce existing levels of economic losses," Milan Simic of AIR Worldwide said, adding that the current numbers provide a baseline and context for improvement.
The draft also includes targets to reduce damage to infrastructure and disruption to basic services, including health and education facilities, and increase access to early warning systems and disaster risk information for the public.
"The (targets) give a reasonable guide to action, but will be challenging to measure," said Tom Mitchell, head of the climate and environment programme at the London-based Overseas Development Institute.
Some aid workers regretted that the new global plan did not focus enough on to how to improve lives in the most vulnerable communities.
"At the moment, we're saying that it's all about the resilience of the system and the governments and the international agreements, and we have lost sight of the people," said Richard Rumsey, director of disaster risk reduction with World Vision International.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling, editing by Alisa Tang)
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