U.N. Development Program Administrator Helen Clark. Photo by: National Assembly for Wales / CC BY

After having earned an explicit mention in the Rio+20 outcome document, disaster risk reduction is in the spotlight once again as a 10-year plan detailing the work needed to lower calamity losses is set to expire in 2015.

The U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction has launched consultations on a new framework to replace the Hyogo Framework for Action. The outgoing plan was voluntary and nonbinding, a setup U.N. Development Program Administrator Helen Clark said was a key ingredient to its success.

One hundred sixty-eight states adopted the Hyogo framework and more than 100 monitored and reported progress toward the framework in recent years, according to Clark. The framework contained no specific targets, although Clark said a number of countries held themselves to set benchmarks.

The next framework could look very similar.

“There is value in continuing a similarly structured voluntary arrangement after 2015,” Clark said.

But success is questionable based on the numbers: By Clark’s own admission, only 1 percent of the $363 billion in aid money spent between 2000 and 2009 went toward disaster risk-reduction activities. Deaths caused by poor infrastructure or planning continue, as evidenced by last year’s floods in Pakistan and the recent earthquake in Iran.

Questions linger on how seamlessly the sustainability and development agenda can be combined, but in Clark’s view, integrating them is imperative.

“Disaster risk reduction needs to become central to mainstream development planning and action, and be reflected in discussions of the overall post-2015 development agenda,” she said.

Clark made her remarks in Christchurch, New Zealand, the site of an earthquake that killed 185 last February. That earthquake — about the same magnitude as the one that leveled parts of Haiti in 2010 — showed the difference resilience and planning can make in supporting, or derailing, development.

Ninety-five percent of disaster-related deaths occur in developing countries, affecting those most vulnerable and least able to bounce back.

UNDP currently supports more than 60 countries in creating national disaster risk-reduction strategies that fit with each country’s development plans. But investment in disaster risk reduction needs to increase exponentially, Clark said, especially since doing so is more cost-effective than responding to emergencies. Clark pointed to research indicating every dollar spent on minimizing risk saves seven in economic losses due to disasters.

“I see our work in disaster risk reduction being about building fences at the top of cliffs, rather than being content to place ambulances at the bottom,” Clark said.

UNDP will prioritize making disaster risk reduction a national and local priority, and will focus on identifying, assessing and monitoring disaster risks and improving early warning systems. The agency will also emphasize reducing the underlying risk factors for disasters and strengthening the ability to respond and recover at all levels.

Toward this end, UNDP is planning to double funding for disaster risk-reduction programs over the next five years.

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About the author

  • Jennifer Brookland

    Jennifer Brookland is a former Devex global development reporter based in Washington, D.C. She has worked as a humanitarian reporter for the United Nations and as an investigative journalist for News21. Jennifer holds a bachelor's in foreign service from Georgetown University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University and in international law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School. She also served for four years as an Air Force officer.

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