By Denis McClean
ABUJA, 14 May 2014 - The African Union (AU) will integrate disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in its new Africa Climate Change Strategy, AU Commissioner Rhoda Peace told the opening session of the 5th Africa Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) yesterday attended by a record 800 participants including representatives from 48 AU countries.
The AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture said this was being done “with a view to reducing vulnerabilities and enhancing resilience in the face of intensifying and more frequent disasters and climate change impacts.”
She urged the inclusion of Africa’s priorities in the global Post-2015 framework for DRR which would contribute to Africa becoming “a dynamic force in the global arena” and ensure that work on DRR continues to contribute to the AU vision of “a food and nutrition secure citizenry.”
Commissioner Peace said: “Ensuring the incorporation of Africa’s contribution into the post-2015 global framework for DRR will mean providing an essential instrument that will allow us to transform development to manage risk, seize opportunities and strengthen resilience, thereby ensuring sustainable development.”
Reflecting on the achievements of the continent in implementing the Africa Regional Strategy for DRR based on the existing global framework for DRR, the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), she said it had “enabled most Member States and Regional Economic Communities to make a paradigm shift from a reactive crisis management to a more proactive risk management.”
There is also increasing political commitment and awareness, better integration into national and sectoral development processes and the education system. She also noted progress in access to information, operationalizing early warning systems, coordination and strengthening preparedness, response and recovery.
Commissioner Peace stated that in some cases there was limited knowledge and access to information on the economic losses associated with disasters and low capacity to translate policy into action “especially at the community level where our focus should be.”
Mr. Muhammad Sani Sidi, Director-General of the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said: “Disasters and their attendant humanitarian consequences have created a recipe for crisis and insecurity in several countries of Africa.”
He recalled that losses from disasters can be up 20 times greater as a percentage of GDP in developing countries compared to industrial nations while over 95% of all disaster-related deaths occur in developing countries.
Mr. Sidi said: “This gloomy statistic is because the advanced nations have prioritized disaster risk reduction and invested in it, but we have not done enough in this respect. Investing in disaster risk reduction helps to reduce the impacts of hazards, decrease poverty and helps communities adapt to climate change, among other benefits. It is also clear that sustainable development and disaster risk reduction are consistent with each other.”
Reflecting on the commitment of the Federal Government of Nigeria to DRR, the NEMA Head said: “Nigeria has made progress in the implementation of all the key priority areas of the Hyogo Framework for Action. There is strong political will and institutional base for disaster risk management.”
NEMA has identified hazards, made the community the focus of its work and promoted “the decentralization of DRR activities at all levels of government and the local communities and has seen children and youth as vanguards that can deliver messages of risk reduction and building resilience.”
Mr. Sidi urged participants “to use these four days to articulate an African position that will positively influence the outcome of the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan next year. African peculiarities like conflict prevention and management, people living with disabilities, need to be pushed as part of the priorities in the HFA2.”
The Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Margareta Wahlström, told the opening session, that the post-2015 framework for DRR needs “to build on the HFA but we need to add to the HFA those focus areas which will help us to continue our work.”
She said that 2015 would also see important agreements reached on sustainable development goals and climate change and there was an opportunity to integrate these three agendas in a way that was mutually reinforcing.
Ms. Wahlström recalled that six of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa underlining the important of DRR in the region as disaster mitigation can help support economic development. DRR had to become part of national development plans.
She said the process of developing a post-2015 framework for DRR is now moving towards the inter-governmental stage with the convening in July of the first government level discussions on its contents. Ms. Wahlström said she hoped the 5th Africa Platform would send a strong message as to what Africa wants to see in that framework when it is adopted in March next year at the Third UN World Conference on DRR in Sendai, Japan.
The 5th Africa Regional Platform was formally declared open by Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, (GCON), Secretary to the Government of the Federation, who said it was important to engage the private sector in disaster risk management and reduction because no government could meet all the demands on its own.
He hailed the creation of Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency as a key achievement of Nigeria under the HFA and a sign of the government’s commitment to DRR but acknowledged that more needs to be done, especially in cooperation with the country’s neighbours to address trans-boundary issues. He recalled that serious flooding was caused in Nigeria in recent years due to the overflow of water from a dam in Cameroon.
The 5th Africa Regional Platform continues until Friday and will include a Ministerial segment which will consider a draft Summary Statement and Declaration along with voluntary stakeholder commitments emerging from a series of separate meetings which took place yesterday among regional economic communities, parliamentarians, local governments, community practitioners, private sector, scientific, technical and academic community, youth and media.