by Margareta Wahlström
12 July 2015
The year 2015 could go down in the history of human development as a major turning point in the effort to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. Reducing the risk of disasters is essential if the very development gains needed to overcome poverty are not undermined repeatedly, in a vicious cycle of unsustainability.
The Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa is the second milestone in a journey that began in March with the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in the Japanese city of Sendai. It will continue with September’s summit on the Sustainable Development Goals, before being capped by the climate conference in Paris in December. The four processes are interlocking.
As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon summed it up: “Sustainability starts in Sendai.” The key aim of the agreement reached at that conference – the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction – is to reduce disaster risk and losses substantially over the next 15 years, thereby helping alleviate global poverty.
The Sendai Framework is a global plan, running from 2015 to 2030. Its goal is to reduce disaster risk and losses in terms of lives, livelihoods and health, as well as to protect the assets of persons, communities and businesses.
It focuses in on the fact that public and private investment in disaster risk reduction through structural and non-structural measures is essential to build resilience to disasters. That can result in improved economic growth and job creation.
The stark alternative is that disaster losses feed back into other outcomes such as deteriorating health and education, and worsening poverty. This in turn heightens future disaster risk for vulnerable groups.
Over the last 40 years, the world’s population has almost doubled, to seven billion, but global exposure to tropical cyclones, for example, has almost tripled. More than 100 million people experience floods each year, and roughly 370 million live in earthquake-prone cities. Despite the advances we have made in disaster management, over the last ten years over 700,000 people lost their lives, over 1.4 million were injured. More than one 1.5 billion people were affected by disasters in various ways. The total economic loss was about US$1.3 trillion. There is a lot at stake when it comes to reducing disaster risk.
When disasters hit, poorer countries, communities, and businesses often struggle to recover.
Sub-Saharan African countries know only too well what that means. According to research on the period 1994-2014, Ethiopia and Kenya are among the top 10 countries globally with the highest absolute number of people affected by disasters, with 41 million and 46 million respectively. And when one counts the proportion of affected people compared to the total population, the top 10 includes Eritrea, Kenya, Lesotho, Niger, Somalia and Zimbabwe.
Water, weather and climate hazards dominate the disaster profile of Sub-Saharan Africa, affecting, on average, around 12.5 million people per year. In 2014, over 6.8 million people in Africa were directly affected by a total of 114 recorded disasters.
There are plenty of examples of what can be done.
In Ethiopia, micro-insurance and early warning systems are helping farmers combat drought and build sustainability.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Environment Programme has implemented an initiative to improve the Lukaya River basin’s water quality. It integrates an ecological disaster risk reduction approach.
Elsewhere, early warning systems and cyclone-resistant classrooms have cut the number of disaster-related deaths in Madagascar’s schools since 2006. Last year, as part of a campaign by UNISDR for International Day for Disaster Reduction, South Africa vowed to implement minimum standards to engage older persons in disaster risk reduction and to meet their needs. And its neighbour Mozambique has established an integrated plan for disaster risk reduction and climate change that aims to address the vulnerability to climate hazards, in particular the capital Maputo, one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
These are just a small indication of the many activities and programmes that have been or are being implemented across the region aimed at reducing the risk of disasters and building sustainable livelihoods.
The world needs a forward-looking agreement on financing for sustainable development which takes on board the priorities of the Sendai Framework and recognises the importance of risk-informed investment in urban growth and land development and key areas such as education, health, and critical infrastructure. If you understand risk then your investments will build resilience to disasters.
UNISDR is coordinating global efforts to ensure the implementation of the Sendai Framework, and the Addis Ababa conference will see the launch of a major new initiative. The “Building Disaster Resilience to Natural Hazards in Sub-Saharan African Regions, Countries and Communities” programme focuses on improved planning, weather and climate services, real-time early warning systems, improved risk knowledge for risk modelling and enhanced financial strategies for decision making. It will be implemented in Africa as part of cooperation between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries.