Americas DRR Platform opens with Ecuador’s HFA success

By Richard Waddington

GUAYAQUIL, 27 May 2014 - Ecuador has invested heavily in disaster risk reduction (DRR), both politically and financially, and with some good results, but there is much still do, the opening session of the 4th Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas heard on Tuesday.

The three-day regional meeting in the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil aims to help shape the new global framework for disaster risk reduction, which will be adopted at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, next March. The new framework will replace the existing Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA).

Ecuadorian Deputy Foreign Minister Leonardo Arízaga Schmegel told the conference, being attended by more than 600 senior regional, national and local officials and members of international and non-governmental organizations, as well as civil society, May 26-29, that the portion of the country’s budget devoted to risk management had risen significantly over the past seven years.

A recent cost-benefit analysis has shown that every $1 spent on prevention generated $9.5 in eventual savings, he said. “That is a 1,000% return for the population.” In addition, under the current government, Ecuador has become a net giver rather than a recipient of international humanitarian aid. However, the deaths of two children in a flood-prone area of Guayaquil two weeks ago were a cruel reminder of just how far Ecuador still has to go in preventing disasters continuing to take a toll on life and on the economy, the conference heard.

The aim of Ecuador was “to build communities that include disaster reduction management as a fundamental pillar of development by focusing on human beings rather than capital,” the deputy foreign minister added. He noted that the country has been one of the first in developing a location system for finding disabled people caught up in a disaster.

The current international architecture for building resilience to disaster needs improving, the deputy minister added. It was important not to lose sight of parallel issues such as the agenda for sustainable development post-2015 and the negotiations on climate change. “We invite you to take advantage of this week to strengthen action on disaster reduction. We must not build societies where losses from natural and man-made disasters wipe out the dreams of future generations,” Arízaga said.

Ecuador’s Defence Minister, María Fernanda Espinoza, said that there is no such thing as a natural disaster. “No disaster is a natural phenomenon. If it were, it would be inevitable. Disasters in most cases are the result of human error or ignorance. That is why the management of risk is our responsibility.”

“The challenge is to organize and sustain models of economic development that can create security and wellbeing. In our country that means guarantee rights, assume responsibilities with regard to health, culture, education and social security and rights to information and, of course, of the management of risk,” she said.

Since 2005, many countries have made significant progress in HFA priority areas, notably in improved growth and capacity for development and the capacity to build early warning systems and to prepare and respond to disasters. This has contributed to a decreasing trend in mortality risk, at least when it comes to meteorological threats, Margareta Wahlström, Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), told the conference.

In the Americas good progress has been made in disaster risk reduction, notably in the assessing of projects from a disaster risk perspective. There has also been great progress in risk reduction in schools and hospitals.

With the support of the Pan American Health Organization and Mexico, more than 2,000 new hospitals throughout the region have been assessed using the HFA hospital safety index. Furthermore, 21 countries have approved national policies for safe hospitals.

But there is still a way to go before “we have a population that is ready to have a focus on disaster risk reduction in their daily lives and ... (have) environmental, humanitarian and development practices based on sound measures for risk reduction,” Ms Wahlström said.

The need to build resilience to disaster through the strengthening of prevention is particularly apparent in the Americas, where 70% of disasters are due to small-scale and frequent climatic events. The priority has to be to help local authorities build resilient communities, she said.

Risk reduction needs to be incorporated as a cross-sectional element in development and public investment. As all risk cannot be eliminated, it is important to strengthen early warning systems and to build systems of financial protection, such as insurance, for the most vulnerable.

“Today we have a great opportunity. The counties of the world will soon be discussing the approval of a new framework of action for disaster reduction post 2015 and to define the agenda of sustainable development goals as well as a climate change agreement,” Ms Wahlström said.

“If we strengthen and align our instruction, policies and actions, we will be able to steer towards a more resilient future with economic growth that will be sustainable and equitable.” The meeting is an opportunity for the Americas to begin building this agenda. “This is an opportunity that we must not lose.”

At the opening session Ecuador unveiled a new postage stamp in honour of the conference.