Ahead of Sendai: The EU's 3 priorities for disaster risk reduction

Debris scattered around airport in Sendai, Japan, after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Photo by: Roberto De Vido / CC BY-NC-ND 

Nearly 8,000 representatives from governments, civil society, donor agencies and development organizations will converge on Sendai, Japan, this weekend with one primary goal: adopt a new framework to guide stakeholders on how to reduce disaster risks.

The EU’s new commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management is one of them.

Christos Stylianides will be leading the EU delegation to the third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction alongside his predecessor, Kristalina Georgieva, who now serves as European commissioner for budget and human resources.

The European Union has been among the leaders in integrating disaster risk reduction and management in its development and humanitarian aid programs. In 2013, it adopted new policies to guide its Civil Protection Mechanism, allowing for a faster and more effective response to natural and man-made disasters. In the same year, ECHO, the EU’s humanitarian aid arm, spent 20 percent of its funding on DRR activities and integrated DRR activities in 60 percent of all the projects it funded.

It’s no surprise, then, that the EU would want to take a more active role in Sendai, putting up not only an exhibition booth but also hosting a side event on how to put DRR policies into practice.

The EU aid chief himself seems keen on ensuring Sendai will create a “robust and ambitious post-2015 framework that can guide us to a resilient world,” noting three things he would want to see achieved at the conference.

The first is to “ensure coherence with the international agenda.”

The DRR framework is not the only global agreement that will be finalized this year. In September, world leaders and development stakeholders will meet in New York to adopt a new agenda to replace the Millennium Development Goals. And just three months after, heads of state and climate change advocates will gather in Paris to, hopefully, sign off on a legally binding, universal climate agreement.

Despite their interrelated goals, the current Hyogo Framework for Action, MDGs and Kyoto Protocol are implemented and monitored independently of one another. So this year provides a rare opportunity to create linkages that could help strengthen implementation and improve chances of success.

“To generate a constructive dynamic toward achieving our global objectives, we need interlocking agreements on how we tackle our joint challenges,” Stylianides told Devex, adding that this can start by having a simple but unified way to monitor progress.

Disaster resilience, he noted, “can contribute to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth” and there is an opportunity now to integrate disaster risk management in these global frameworks.

The EU’s humanitarian aid chief said the Sendai framework should have “action-oriented targets,” which could more effectively measure implementation and “encourage stronger accountability.” He noted that self-monitoring of progress toward meeting the five priorities outlined in the Hyogo framework has resulted in inconsistent efforts to monitor risk and resilience to disasters.

“[But] improved accountability, transparency and governance should constitute key principles of the post-2015 framework,” the commissioner said, adding that “targets and indicators to measure progress and encourage implementation” should be strengthened as well.

And third, the new framework should include provisions that encourage innovative solutions and approaches to reducing and managing disaster risk; according to the commissioner, doing so could even “lead to new business opportunities and contribute to green growth and job creation.”

“We have an important opportunity here,” Stylianides stressed. “The new framework could play an important role by for example promoting disaster-proofing in public and private financial decisions as well as climate and disaster resilience for all major infrastructure projects.”

‘Important contributions’ from the EU

The European Union has in fact already taken steps to incorporate DRR as a key element of its sustainable development cooperation. Over the past decade, the 28-member bloc has seen about 100 billion euros ($106.3 billion) in losses to disasters. In response, it adopted a communication last year that has been guiding discussions between member states, the European Parliament and other stakeholders around the EU position for the Sendai negotiations.

These discussions have helped bring to light “important EU deliverables toward a coherent policy on disaster risk management that can … underpin the new international framework,” the EU aid chief said. Of these, the commissioner highlighted three areas where the EU could provide significant input.

The first is in risk assessment and analysis. According to Stylianides, the European Commission has prepared a cross-sectoral review of risks in Europe to gauge the impact of climate change and the need for climate adaptation.

The second area is in the exchange of experiences to improve governance. The commissioner underscored how helpful periodic peer review mechanisms, voluntary or otherwise, have been to policy-making and increasing accountability, and suggests integrating such instruments in the Sendai framework.

Lastly, the EU could share lessons learned and good disaster prevention practices, particularly those that cut across themes, from governance and planning to research and technology.

Whether the results of these discussions would have an impact on the negotiations in Sendai remains to be seen, but Stylianides stressed that he and his team would do their “utmost” to ensure a strong framework will be adopted.

“At the end of the day,” the EU aid chief said, “the world needs action not words.”

What elements should be part of the next global disaster risk reduction framework to ensure it can pave the way for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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    Aimee Rae Ocampo

    In her role as editor for business insight, Aimee creates and manages multimedia content and cutting-edge analysis for executives in international development. As the manager of Development Insider, Devex's flagship publication for executive members, she is constantly on the lookout for the latest news, trends and policies that influence the business of development.