Economic Losses and Displacement Should Drive Disaster Risk Reduction Efforts

It is just over three years since United Nations Member States adopted the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the global plan to reduce disaster losses, which is pivotal to the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It focuses primarily on prevention, aiming to recognize and nullify disaster risks before they trigger events that lead to the loss of life, homes and livelihoods, as well as damage to health facilities, schools, public utilities and other important communal assets.

Reducing disaster risk is a cross-cutting issue for all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 1, on the eradication of poverty in all its forms everywhere. Disasters are a major contributor to entrenched poverty in low- and middle-income countries attempting to recover from extreme weather events amplified by the effects of climate change. Disasters can set back development gains made over decades of hard work.

The World Bank estimates that disasters cost the global economy $520 billion annually, while pushing 26 million people into poverty.

Since the Sendai Framework was adopted, some 60 million people in over 100 countries have been displaced by disaster events, mainly floods, storms and droughts. These adverse events often take place in environments exposed to natural and man-made hazards, poverty, lack of protective ecosystems, and weak institutional capacity to prepare for and respond to them. Population growth, economic development, and rapid and often risk-blind urbanization place more people in harm’s way than ever before in earthquake zones, flood plains, coastlines, dry lands and other high-risk areas, increasing the possibility that a natural hazard turns into a humanitarian catastrophe. More people are affected by extreme weather events than any other type of natural hazards, be they floods, storms or drought, which are responsible for 95 per cent of disaster-affected populations.

While early warning systems and timely evacuations have led to reduced loss of life, economic losses continue to grow, impeding a number of nations’ graduation from least developed country (LDC) status to middle income status.

Many of those countries that suffer the most from economic losses are small island developing States. Vanuatu, which was devastated by Cyclone Pam in 2015 as the Sendai Framework was being adopted, will not graduate from LDC status until 2020 due to the storm’s lasting impact on its economy. It is therefore imperative that disaster risk reduction be formalized and embedded in the DNA of a country’s governance if it is to make a long-term contribution towards sustainable development.

This requires clear vision, plans, competence, guidance and coordination within and across sectors. It also demands inclusion and participation of key segments of society, which, if excluded, can become vulnerable, but whose insights and experience of coping with disaster events can strengthen disaster risk management. These groups include women and girls, children, older persons, those living with disabilities and indigenous peoples.

Governance is an area of great focus this year for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). Agreement on 38 indicators for measuring progress on reducing disaster losses and achieving the Sendai Framework’s seven targets has led to a global surge in efforts to record disaster losses and analysis of disaster trends following the launch in March 2018 of the Sendai Framework Monitor. United Nations Member States are signing up quickly to use the Monitor and to report on their disaster losses, such as overall mortality, numbers affected, economic losses and damage to critical infrastructure.

At the same time, all regions are meeting this year to assess their progress on implementation of the Sendai Framework and, in particular, to ensure that there is a substantial increase in the number of countries with national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction in place by 2020, a key Sendai Framework deadline. It is also an important deadline for the achievement of the SDGs, given the overlap with the eradication of poverty and, in particular, the implications for delivering results for SDG 11, to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, and SDG 13, to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

These national and local strategies will provide strong evidence of coherence across the 2030 Agenda if they clearly integrate initiatives to climate-proof the world against the effects of ever-rising land and sea surface temperatures, rising sea levels and increasing weather variability. Events in the Horn of Africa in recent months illustrate the scale of the challenge for countries that contribute least to greenhouse gas emissions yet often bear the brunt of the impact from climate change.

Through two long years of drought, pastoral communities in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia struggled to keep their livestock alive and feed their families. When the rains finally arrived in April 2018, far from bringing relief, they added more hardship. All three countries were ravaged by the worst floods in 20 years, displacing more than 700,000 people. To make matters worse, Cyclone Sagar struck Somalia in May 2018, killing at least 16 people and displacing thousands in an area already affected by conflict. The variety, unpredictability and intensity of such events underline the importance of strengthening disaster risk governance for prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

The latest figures from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre show the extent of the problem. Last year there were 18 million new weather-related displacements. Floods accounted for 8.6 million displacements; storms—7.5 million; and drought—1.5 million. The challenge of reducing displacement from extreme weather events is universal. Due largely but not solely to a very active Atlantic hurricane season in 2017, the United States had more people displaced by weather-related hazards than Bangladesh, India or Somalia last year.

UNISDR expects that by the time the world meets at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva next May, we will be able to present a more complete picture than ever before of the impacts of disasters, especially on those countries that struggle most with extreme events. The scale of economic losses last year and the continuing high numbers of people who are internally displaced by disasters should be incentive enough to accelerate the implementation of the Sendai Framework and to ensure that these efforts are fully inclusive of the needs of those groups and communities that are most at risk.