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New global strategy should recognise disaster protection and participation of at-risk communities as human rights
Last week, international experts on disaster reduction met in Geneva to develop a new global framework to make the world more resilient to increasing natural disasters.
It is clear that disasters such as earthquakes, typhoons and floods are on the rise and have huge impacts. The U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) estimates that in the last 20 years, 1.3 million people have been killed by disasters. Of these deaths, 93 percent were in developing countries, highlighting how the poor are disproportionately vulnerable to disasters.
But there is more to the story than mortality rates. In the last 20 years, around 4.4 billion people have been affected in some way or another by disasters.
For people whose assets have been damaged or destroyed, farmers whose harvests have been lost, or communities whose road infrastructure has been damaged - cutting them off from their work, schools and markets - economic losses are thought to have totalled $2 trillion in the same period.
It is expected that disasters will only continue to increase if we do not take measures to stop this trend. Major drivers are climate change and the growth of cities in areas that are already exposed to floods, tropical storms and earthquakes. This is why an internationally agreed disaster risk reduction strategy is so important.
In addition to a clear strategy, financial resources are urgently required, so that investments can be made in critical disaster prevention and preparedness measures. The business case is clear. The World Bank estimates that every $1 spent on risk reduction will save $7 in costs associated with emergency response.
Last week’s meeting was an important occasion, as it was the last round of consultations to finalise the new international disaster risk reduction strategy. The new framework will be agreed at the World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Japanese city of Sendai in March 2015.
The strategy will have an important role in ensuring that governments meet the challenges they face in dealing with the rising incidence of disasters. Firstly, they must recognise their responsibility towards their citizens, particularly the most vulnerable. It is widely recognised that the most vulnerable sections of society – women, children, the elderly, disabled or socially excluded groups – are hardest hit by disasters.
Therefore governments must also include these groups in the planning of disaster risk reduction strategies, as well as their implementation.
EFFECTIVE ON THE GROUND
Governments who actually listen to civil society will discover that even though these groups may be vulnerable, they can also be extremely effective at ensuring that all members of their community are reached, and their needs are taken account of during a disaster.
This is why NGOs, including ActionAid, have been calling for the new global strategy to recognise disaster protection and participation of at-risk communities as human rights.
The first and second drafts of the new strategy did mention the contributions and leadership of communities in disaster risk reduction. But in joint statements and discussion papers by civil society, NGOs like ActionAid have been calling for the inclusion of communities as a key partner, underlining the importance of their participation.
Decision-makers need to be reminded that this strategy must reach the local communities who deal with the impacts of disasters, and who have the most experience in dealing with them.
So far UNISDR has encouraged different groups to bring their issues into the consultation process. The Community Practitioners’ Platform and the Global Network for Disaster Reduction, which represent civil society organisations, have been able to share their views and suggestions on the new strategy.
ActionAid supported two community leaders from Afghanistan and Bangladesh to voice their views at the Asian Ministerial Conference in June 2014.
A huge challenge now lies ahead for UNISDR to distil the information and suggestions received from government and different groups, retain the key messages, and make the new strategy actionable while putting local people at its core.
Communities must be at the heart of disaster risk reduction, and the new framework must call for power and resources to be distributed to them.
Jessica Hartog is a resilience project manager with ActionAid.