13 October 2021

The timing could not be better.

This year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on 13 October focuses on a topic that has been pushed to the fore by the debates raging around the faltering response to planetary emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, the destruction of protective ecosystems, desertification and more.

Each year we mark the day through the lens of one of the seven targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, adopted by United Nations Member States in 2015. This year’s observance is centred on target (F): enhancing international cooperation to developing countries as they seek to implement their national disaster risk reduction strategies and reduce their disaster losses.

Although 101 Member States have developed such strategies to date, the truth is that many resource-poor developing countries struggle to implement them without overseas development assistance, capacity-building support and technology transfer.

Despite the clear evidence that investing in disaster risk reduction (DRR) brings great benefits, not least in stemming the rise in demand for humanitarian assistance, only a small fraction of international cooperation is being channeled to support such efforts. Of overall financing provided between 2010 and 2019, the $5.5 billion spent on DRR accounts for just 0.5 per cent of the total amount of international aid.1

More lives are being saved thanks to early warning systems, and we see evidence of this across the world, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Bay of Bengal. Advances in meteorology, weather forecasting and satellite imagery, as well as stronger risk governance, mean that disasters that would have cost thousands of lives in the past no longer exact as high a toll.

But much more can and must be done through international cooperation. Only half of the 193 members of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have multi-hazard early warning systems, and there are severe gaps in weather and hydrological observing networks in Africa, parts of Latin America, and in the Pacific and Caribbean island States.

This is why the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), WMO and many United Nations Member States strongly support initiatives such as the Climate Risk and Early Warning System Initiative (CREWS),  launched at the 2015 World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. CREWS has raised $330 million to support a wide range of projects for least developed countries (LDCs) and small island developing States (SIDS), including improved weather forecasts, which help farmers to plant appropriate crops to avoid losing them in disaster events, and an improved Flash Flood Guidance System for countries in West Africa.

The 2019 Climate Action Summit saw the launch of the Risk-informed Early Action Partnership (REAP), hosted by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies secretariat, with the ambition of making 1 billion people safer from disasters by 2025.

Anticipatory action is key to staving off the impacts of a disaster event; the importance of this is underlined by the alarming growth in recent years of people being internally displaced by floods, storms and drought. In 2018, there were 16.1 million people newly displaced by weather events2 and by 2020 this number had risen to 30 million.3

The Horn of Africa Partnership for Early Warning and Early Action was launched at the Stockholm High-level event on “Addressing the Humanitarian Impact of Climate Change: Anticipate and Act” in October 2020. The Partnership comprises the Government of Sweden, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), UNDRR and the World Food Programme. It aims to encourage transboundary cooperation and address persistent food security challenges across the region. Outputs so far include an IGAD regional flood risk profile that strengthens flood risk management and anticipates likely impacts on people, gross domestic product, crops, livestock and roads. Other key hazards will be addressed, including drought.

Anticipation is one half of the prevention equation. The other half is to ensure that disaster resilience is built into any critical infrastructure, including schools and health facilities, that is likely to be exposed to a natural hazard, such as a storm, flood, earthquake or tsunami. In recognition of the fact that the bulk of economic losses from disasters result from extensive damage to critical infrastructure, UNDRR participates actively in the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), which was launched by the Government of India at the 2019 Climate Action Summit.

Children and teachers in Bangladesh playing an educational game on risks and how to deal with disasters. November 2019. Chris Huby for UNDRR

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep-rooted vulnerabilities in public health infrastructure and supply chains. I recently congratulated CDRI for opening a debate on this important topic which, alongside the lack of equity in vaccine distribution, ranks as a top global priority for international cooperation.

UNDRR fully supports the call by the World Health Organization (WHO) for global, regional and national actions to scale up investment in programmes and initiatives that strengthen health infrastructure, such as health-care facilities and supply chains, for the protection of people’s health and well-being from emergencies and disasters, including pandemics.

So far, over 160 nations have joined the COVAX initiative—COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access—which aims to provide equitable access to vaccines and is directed by WHO, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

At the time of writing, more than 6.26 billion doses of vaccine have been administered globally, 73 per cent have been in just 10 countries, and just 3 per cent of people in Africa have had inoculations. One can only hope that the momentum generated by the September 2021 Global COVID-19 Summit hosted by United States President Joe Biden will lead to improved vaccine supply to developing countries.

The emergence of the Delta variant of the virus underlines the message that no one is safe until everyone is safe, and exclusion is more costly in the long run. Those behind the COVAX initiative fully realize this and need greater support for their efforts if we are to get the pandemic under control as quickly as possible and with fewer lives lost.

While rolling out vaccinations globally is critically important for ending the current pandemic, we also know that there is no vaccine against poverty. International cooperation to support developing countries is essential if many of them are to survive the climate emergency and adapt to the challenges of a warming world that they have done little to create. Developed nations must step up to the plate, not only to deliver on their promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but to provide financial, technological and capacity-building assistance to developing countries that are struggling to cope with rising sea levels, warming seas, erratic rainfall and the constant threat of extreme weather events.

As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out when he launched his recent report, “Our Common Agenda”, “From the climate crisis to our suicidal war on nature and the collapse of biodiversity, our global response is too little, too late.”4

We can either continue on the path to global breakdown or back the solutions that will lead to a global breakthrough, and deliver a safer, more sustainable world in which no one is left behind.

International cooperation to improve how developing countries manage their disaster risk is essential to human development and progress, because nothing undermines sustainable development like a disaster.


1Information provided by UNDRR.

2 Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Global Report on Internal Displacement 2019 (Geneva, 2019), p. 7. Available at https://www.internal-displacement.org/sites/default/files/publications/documents/2019-IDMC-GRID.pdf

3Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Global Report on Internal Displacement 2021 (Geneva, 2021), p. 12. Available at https://www.internal-displacement.org/sites/default/files/publications/documents/grid2021_idmc.pdf

4United Nations, "Global Crisis Response ‘Too Little, Too Late’, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly ‘Our Common Agenda’ Event, Warning of Instability, Climate Chaos", press release, 10 September 2021. Available at https://www.un.org/press/en/2021/sgsm20891.doc.htm


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