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Governments are moving from managing disasters to managing risks

by Katie Peters and Emma Lovell | @katiepetersodi | Overseas Development Institute
Tuesday, 13 December 2016 09:21 GMT

People stand near a flooded river after Typhoon Sarika hits Qionghai, Hainan province, China, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Action on the Sendai Framework is starting to take form

Twenty months ago in Japan, the world’s governments signed a global framework to take action to manage disaster risk - the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. What happened next?

In early November amid Delhi smog 16 times above the safe limit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on neighbouring governments to ramp up their commitments to action on reducing disaster risk.

In hosting the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction he illuminated the potential of social media and digital technologies in mapping disaster risk, talked of the pursuit of vibrant and visual methods of learning from disaster experiences, and of the need to get serious about financing risk management, suggesting that "all public expenditure must include risk mitigation".

Being the first regional consultation in Asia since the global goals and targets were agreed in Sendai, this event marked the start of a process to support governments to shift away from the previous Hyogo Framework’s focus on "managing disasters", towards the new mantra of "managing risk".  

Despite being 20 months since the goals and targets were agreed in Sendai, for some the consultation was premature. Without agreed indicators for the targets – being negotiated in parallel in the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) headquarters in Geneva – a regional platform with the purpose of reorienting ambitions to the new framework had some limitations.

Despite hesitancy, on 5th November, Asia officially adopted the:

It’s hard to disagree with many of the sentiments of the Delhi Declaration and Asia Regional Plan or the themes discussed by the 4,000 attendees from across the region. But the process was not without struggle.

Climate change, though appearing in the plan, does not feature in the declaration. Hesitancy and constraints on the part of government delegations to stick within their disaster risk reduction remit meant that the pursuit of coherence across the post 2015 frameworks, a core theme in the debates, was not explicitly endorsed.

It will be two years before progress towards these contributions will be assessed, in Mongolia in 2018. Only then will we know whether the political hesitancy to include climate change in the declaration acts as a barrier to promoting joined-up action between the disaster and climate communities.

Just two weeks later – and with the U.N. COP22 climate talks and the agreement of the indicators and terminology for disaster risk reduction in-between - an equivalent Ministerial meeting was convened in Africa.

Like the Asian event, the Africa Platform produced a Mauritius Declaration, a Programme of Action and set of stakeholder commitments to action. Unlike the Delhi Declaration, climate change featured, as did the complementary Paris Agreement on climate change, and the need for "integrated approaches for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and mitigation".

In comparison to the previous regional platforms under the Hyogo rein, those in 2016 were more forward thinking, focused on the world we want to create by 2030 – one in which risk is proactively managed across government departments. The disaster risk reduction community was also reflexive, recognising that at times it can inadvertently reinforce silos that prevent whole-of-government responsibility for the management of disaster risk.

In spite of the new commitments and declarations, the most exciting opportunity of the past few months is one that completed in the two weeks between the Asian and African ministerial meetings.

Hidden away at the UNISDR headquarters in Geneva, government representatives and world experts on disaster risk succeeded in designing a set of indicators that can now be used to monitor progress on the Sendai Framework. And with this, they cemented an innovative process which connects the progress we’re making on reducing disaster risk to our hopes of pursuing sustainable development over the coming 15 years.

What does this mean? It means the political attention afforded to the sustainable development goals (SDGs), the funding for monitoring support, and the institutional incentives to achieve those goals by 2030 have been tied to attainment of progress on the Sendai Framework. The foundations are laid at the international level; this now needs to be driven forward at the national level where the case for embedding disaster reporting should and could become part and parcel of the remit of reporting on the SDGs, and part of the national statistic offices.

This is a success for coherence, and presents a tangible pathway for linking progress, monitoring and action across the disasters-development agenda. The disaster risk reduction community is finally coming of age, under the Sendai Framework, the 2030 agenda, and with new Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Robert Glasser, at the helm.

As Zambia voiced so eloquently at the Africa platform, and Indonesia at the Asian Ministerial, the hope is that governments will seize the opportunity presented by the linked monitoring frameworks to achieve change at the pace required by 2030. We wait in hope.