Governments craft Sendai benchmarks

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By Jonathan Fowler

GENEVA, 11 February 2016 – Governments on Thursday continued hammering out ways to measure progress in implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year international agreement to rein in the impact of natural and man-made hazards.

Ministerial delegates, diplomats and disaster risk reduction practitioners have been working to craft a common understanding of what countries will be measuring and how to measure it, enabling them to verify whether the aims of the Sendai Framework are being met worldwide up to 2030.

“The purpose of the indicators is not to collect data as such, but to achieve the goals of the Sendai Framework on the ground,” underlined Mr. Kimio Takeya, Distinguished Technical Adviser to the President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, whose country hosted the March 2015 Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction where the agreement was adopted.

The Sendai Framework has seven targets. It aims to bring about substantial reductions in disaster deaths, the number of affected people and economic losses, plus damage to critical infrastructure and disruption to basic services such as health and educational facilities. It also seeks to increase the number of countries with national and local risk reduction strategies, bolster the capacity of developing countries, and vastly increase coverage by early warning systems.

“People are serious about the Sendai Framework,” said Banak J. Dei Wal, Director General of Disaster Management at Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs of South Sudan.

“The Sendai Framework stipulated the targets and now these targets need to be met by all nations. If all nations are not fully aware of how to fulfil the targets of Sendai then the global targets will not be met by 2030,” he added.

Over the past two decades, global attention has shifted gradually from treating disasters as a matter of humanitarian relief operations to tackling risk head on.

“The thing about disaster risk reduction is that, whether it makes news or not, it matters because it affects people’s lives,” said Mr. Wayne McCook, Jamaica’s UN ambassador, who chaired the Geneva talks and also steered key stages of the drafting of the Sendai Framework.

While mortality has fallen, the need to reduce risk remains clear given that disasters have still claimed more than 76,000 lives and affected over 173 million people, on average, per year since 2005.

Economic losses have risen steadily, stoked by climate change, unbalanced urbanization and inequalities, and now average US$250 billion to US$300 billion a year, according to UNISDR’s 2015 Global Assessment Report. Reducing risk is good business sense, with studies showing that every dollar invested in disaster preparedness saves seven dollars in aftermath costs.

The latest session of what is known as the Open-Ended Intergovernmental Expert Working Group on Indicators and Terminology Relating to Disaster Risk Reduction – a body mandated by the UN General Assembly – began on Tuesday. It first met in September and a further session is due later this year, with informal meetings set to take place in the meantime.

“There are a lot of difficult issues ahead, but we’ve made enormous progress,” Mr. Robert Glasser, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, told delegates as the talks wrapped up.

Mr. McCook echoed that, saying: “We have clear landing zones in most areas.”

To date, the greatest strides have been made on the targets related to mortality, economic losses and infrastructure, followed by that on the number of people affected.

The issue of enhancing the disaster risk reduction capacity of developing countries via international cooperation is critical, said Ms. Josephta Mukobe, Principal Secretary at Kenya’s State Department of Coordination.

“The success or failure of the Sendai Framework in some countries will depend on it,” she told the session.

Among the tasks at hand is to develop a common classification of types of hazards, ranging from meteorological events like storms to threats such as earthquakes, bio-hazards including disease outbreaks, as well as man-made disasters caused by industrial accidents.

Delegates have also been weighing up measures such as equations to measure economic losses in a range of sectors and methods to ensure data is gathered consistently right down to the hyper-local level.