* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
We still have much do when it comes to tackling the underlying risks that drive disasters and soaring economic losses
In Mexico, we have an antique culture of prevention and civil protection. On the cliff top of Mexico’s Atlantic Coast, there is evidence of the country’s ancient past and its long hard battles with nature. The remains of the Temple of the God of the Wind, in Tulum, is the site of the earliest known hurricane warning system, established by the Mayan people. Since then, many technological advances have allowed us to have a more preventive and strategic way to tackle natural disasters.
In 2015, Patricia, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded, arrived on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Patricia reached a speed of 200 mph as it spun in the ocean and touched land at 165 mph, becoming the strongest cyclone on record in the Atlantic and eastern North Pacific. Despite the enormous threat, an unprecedented effort of prevention ─ including early forecasting of the storm arrival, clear and widespread warnings, and timely evacuations ─ allowed Mexico to make it through the storm without a single casualty.
The story was very different in 1985, however, when a massive earthquake shook the ground beneath Mexico City. The memory of the tragedy that followed is one of the main reasons why we now deploy a state-of-the-art early warning system that allows our citizens to find safety before the worst can happen.
With its rich history of facing important natural challenges and its unquestionable improvements in that area, Mexico is the perfect place to host heads of state, government officials, UN agencies, NGO representatives, business men and women, and all others committed to keeping disaster prevention as a priority on the international agenda. Consequently, this year, we are hosting the 5th Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, in Cancun.
Although the path has been long, the progress made in disaster risk reduction across the world has been worth it. In 2005, weeks after the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami, the ten-year Hyogo Framework for Action was adopted. This framework has led to remarkable advances in how we manage disasters and, despite some egregious events such as Cyclone Nargis and the Haitian earthquake, to a steady decline in loss of life as a consequence of these hazards.
There is no question that we have become better at managing disasters. Yet, we still have a lot to do when it comes to tackling the underlying risks that drive disasters and soaring economic losses. For instance, a recent study of the World Bank estimates that, every year, disasters cost the global economy $520 billion and cause 26 million people to be pushed into poverty. Fortunately, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, adopted two years ago in Japan, has shifted the paradigm in order to achieve this aim.
Moreover, by improving disaster risk management and reducing its triggers, we are shaping the path for the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda provides all countries with a roadmap for climate actions that will reduce emissions and build climate resilience. Hence, its effective execution will decrease the frequency and strength of climatic threats.
The 2017 Global Platform will be an opportunity to re-boot and energize worldwide efforts to reduce disaster losses by sharing experiences and best practices. We have to find more efficient ways to reduce the casualties, damage and economic impact of disasters.
The High Level Forum of the Global Platform will focus on economic losses, as it is a strategic component for sustainable development. No country should lose growth opportunities due to the devastating effects of a natural disaster. To illustrate, more than six years after the shattering 2010 earthquake ─ which caused losses equivalent to 32 percent of its GDP ─ Haiti was still rebuilding its economy when it was hit by a Category 4 hurricane last October.
The sole fact that lives were lost in a well-forecast storm highlights the importance of the first ever Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference, which took place over two days in Cancun, prior to the official opening of the 2017 Global Platform. Its main objective is to further strengthen early warning systems in least developed countries lacking in weather and climate services.
The overall aim of the 2017 Global Platform is to move from commitment to action; that is, to operationalize the Sendai Framework and to guarantee that its first deadline is met. By 2020, every country in the world must have national and local strategies in place for disaster risk reduction. Over the last years, Mexico has consolidated a National System of Civil Protection based on the active participation of the three levels of government, as well as all sectors of society. Our hope is to collaborate with other countries so each of them can develop its own system.
As of now, we do not know with absolute certainty what led to the decline of the ancient Mayan civilisation. What we do know, however, is that they understood the importance of prevention. As this meeting takes place in their former land, let us remember that we are here to discuss and fortify our policies towards more preventive and resilient societies.
Enrique Peña Nieto is the President of Mexico.