What should a new disaster risk reduction deal focus on?

by Helen Mountfort, ODI | Overseas Development Institute
Friday, 11 October 2013 11:45 GMT

A man carries his belongings in a basin as he walks in a flooded street in Yuyao, in China's Zhejiang province, on October 10, 2013. REUTERS/China Daily

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More voices, better local capacity and sharing of knowledge are keys

Many countries - from Armenia to Vietnam - are making the right noises about reducing disaster risk, including involving marginalised communities in debates on the topic.

October 13 is the UN International Day for Disaster Reduction. This year’s theme is Living with Disability and Disasters, which aims to showcase the abilities that disabled people offer in increasing resilience to disasters.

For decades we have known that women, children, elderly and disabled people are acutely vulnerable to disasters and constitute the biggest proportion of victims. Up to 75 percent of displaced persons following natural disasters are women and children.

Only within the last few years, however, have we begun to understand the role that each of these groups can play in reducing disaster risk and leading recovery efforts.

As attention focuses on negotiating a successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action – the global agreement to reduce disaster risk that ends in 2015 - governments appear to be getting the message. They are calling for the inclusion of women, children and disabled people in shaping the next framework and in leading disaster risk reduction efforts.

But what else are they suggesting should be at the core of the new agreement? We analysed 62 government statements made to the Global Platform on Disaster Reduction in May 2013, and spotted the following shared messages:

  1. 1.       Reducing disaster risk needs to involve everyone: 35 percent of governments emphasised the importance of including women and children, civil society and private sector organisations in national systems for managing disaster risk. Turkey reiterated the importance of engaging academia and civil society to achieve risk reduction targets, suggesting ‘every individual must be part of the solution’.

 Nigeria, Sweden and Canada were also among a handful of countries that called for specific roles for women and children to be outlined in the new framework. Thailand and the Netherlands encouraged private sector leadership in partnership with the government, but raised questions about how best to forge complementary rather than competitive roles between development partners, civil society and business.

  1. 2.       Local capacity should be increased: This was called for by 35 percent of countries. The Maldives committed to invest in grassroots capacities to build local readiness for disaster preparedness and response. Bhutan pointed to limited technical capacities of land-locked countries to assess their hazards and vulnerability sub-nationally and Nepal drew links between the need to strengthen local capacity while driving cross-ministry mainstreaming at national level. 
  2. 3.       Good practice knowledge should be shared: 27 percent of countries, including Iran, Japan, Indonesia and Bhutan, advocated a more structured approach to gathering good practices and sharing these between countries. Armenia said that this would help ‘compare models, methodologies, professional capacities and mechanisms designed and adapted in various countries’.
  3. 4.       National plans and development strategies should integrate risk management: 18 percent of countries, including Namibia, Trinidad and Tobago, Finland and Kenya contended that improved cross-government institutional commitment to reducing disaster risk is a priority. Their focus was on creating the arguments and evidence base to secure disaster resilience as a leading component of national strategic planning.
  4. 5.       Public awareness must be improved: 15 percent of countries called for improved public awareness and integration of disaster risk reduction into school curricula, and for training programmes to be at the heart of the next framework. Both Sri Lanka and Thailand pointed to recent successes, where Disaster Management is a new Master’s course at the University of Colombo and where a major training programme on community-based disaster risk management covers people in flood-prone areas of Thailand.
  5. 6.       Accountability and clearer metrics should support action: 15 percent of governments pointed to the Hyogo Framework for Action as having an inadequate accountability framework and called for this to be revised and strengthened in the new agreement. The UK cited its good experience with country-to-country peer review and called for clearer targets, indicators and standards, as did Cambodia, Sweden and Uganda.  A further 13 percent of governments, such as Germany, Malaysia and Italy, called for the establishment of baselines and progress markers to chart national and global action.
  6. 7.       Access to early warnings must be timely and equitable: 11 percent highlighted problems with early warning systems, with India calling for actionable information to b available 24/7 in local languages. Niue outlined the challenges of early warning in remote islands, suggesting the need for every community to have the right technology and training.  

Other issues raised by at least a handful of governments included the need to strengthen physical infrastructure, calls for improved donor finance, improved use of scientific information in risk assessments and decision-making, better integration of conflict prevention and peace-building efforts, greater participation and recognition of rights, and a clearer commitment to social protection for the poorest. The interface between climate change and disasters was mentioned as context by many governments, but beyond better national co-ordination, there were precious few concrete suggestions.

In addition, some governments made very clear demands on the process for agreeing the successor to the Hyogo Framework. These involved the importance of linking the new agreement to the post-2015 development goals, the need for a unified international institutional architecture to support disaster risk reduction, better regional co-operation between national platforms and calls for flexibility to create good conditions for national ownership.

While we haven’t assessed the statements of all countries, a few issues seem conspicuous by their absence. There is little mention of the specific challenges posed for urban areas or by migration, or the need to integrate disaster risk reduction into recovery and reconstruction efforts.

Many of these messages also emerge from the chair’s summary of the Global Platform meeting, but we hope this brief digest is useful for those planning consultations on the next international disaster risk reduction framework in the coming months.

Helen Mountfort works on disaster risk reduction issues at the London-based Overseas Development Institute.

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