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Mexico meeting to bring world together on disaster prevention

Friday, 17 March 2017 11:16 GMT

Two women sit on the remains of a wall destroyed by Hurricane Matthew at the National School in Damassins, Haiti, Nov. 20, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

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

We have got much better at managing disasters but are less focused on reducing risk

Two years have passed quickly since the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction kicked off one of the most ambitious projects in the history of the United Nations: the all-encompassing 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The 2030 Agenda is designed to pull the planet back from the brink. Catastrophe awaits us if we do not wean ourselves off fossil fuels and plan for population growth in a manner which avoids creating exposure to natural and man-made hazards.

Prevention runs through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development like a red line. The Paris Agreement on climate change directly addresses the greatest disaster risk facing the planet: global warming at unsupportable levels if greenhouse gas emissions are not reined in to limit average temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius or well below.

The ratification of the Paris Agreement is only the beginning. The Sendai Framework, the global plan for preventing and reducing disaster losses, sets a deadline of 2020 for a substantial increase in national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction. The bedrock for a safe and resilient planet in the years to come will be laid at the local level, from the neighbourhood up.

This safe and resilient planet will be a planet committed to eliminating reliance on fossil fuels, and to spreading and sharing the technology necessary for a global switch to renewable sources of energy. It will also be a planet where risk is managed in a new way, where development is risk-informed, and where the safety and well-being of citizens is promoted above short-term gains for investors.

These national and local plans will encompass the whole gamut of disaster risk, as spelled out in the Sendai Framework, with a particular emphasis on preventing disasters through reducing risk or eliminating it to the extent possible, depending on the nature of the hazard.

These plans must address climate change, poverty, environmental protection, urbanisation, population growth, land use and building codes. They must also engage a broad range of stakeholders beyond local governments to include the construction industry, other parts of the private sector, and the full spectrum of civil society.

This effort will start in earnest when high-level representatives of UN member states, mayors, local government representatives and thousands of community and NGO activists converge on Cancun, Mexico, for the 2017 Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction, from May 22 to 26.

This metaphorical circling of the wagons against disaster risk has been taking place every two years now since the Indian Ocean tsunami claimed over 220,000 lives in 2004, starting with the World Conference of 2005. That conference resulted in guidance to UN member states on how to manage disaster risk - the Hyogo Framework for Action which ran to 2015.

The process continued with four biennial conferences in Geneva, and the Third UN World Conference in Sendai, Japan, in March 2015 which adopted the Sendai Framework and its seven targets.


What we have learned from the previous decade is that the world has become much better at managing disasters caused by natural hazards, but is less focused on prevention and managing risk. Mortality rates have fallen despite the growing intensity of severe weather events often due to warming and rising seas.

Countries like Mexico have made significant strides to manage major events like Hurricane Patricia, the strongest storm ever to make landfall in the Americas. Mexico’s experience of the 1985 earthquake has led to major efforts to reduce the risk of fatalities in the event of a recurrence.

Nonetheless, what we have also seen is the growth of exposure to disaster risk, which presently is far outstripping our ability to keep pace with it or indeed, to manage it adequately, through reducing the numbers of people affected or reducing economic losses.

In recent months, Haiti has lost 32 percent of its GDP to Hurricane Matthew. In 2015, more people were displaced by disasters than by conflict. Six years after the triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear meltdown, 123,000 people are still displaced in Japan.

Earlier this month, huge losses were inflicted on agriculture in Madagascar along with major damage to schools and infrastructure as a result of Cyclone Enawo.

Such events illustrate why it is vitally important that participants at the Global Platform in Mexico return home with an even stronger commitment to action on prevention at the local level if we are to deliver on the commitments outlined in the Sendai Framework.

Bearing in mind that the worst disasters that could happen have not happened yet, Cancun must become a turning point. The world must scale up action to the level required to build resilience in a century that will test us on the disaster front as never before.

Robert Glasser is the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

Luis Felipe Puente is the National Coordinator for the Mexican Civil Protection Agency.