At Sendai, meaningful steps toward mainstreaming disaster risk reduction

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers remarks during the opening ceremony of the third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai, Japan, from March 14 to 18. Photo by: UNISDR / CC BY-NC-ND

As the third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction slowly comes to a close in the Japanese city of Sendai, hopes are high that leaders from all corners of the world will come up with an ambitious global response framework to succeed the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action.

And this time around, both developed and developing countries are not afraid to face the music.

“There is very strong consensus here that unless we really put disaster risk and resilience at the heart of how we think about and carry out development, we are simply not going to achieve the goals that we want for ourselves as an international community,” Rachel Kyte, vice president and special envoy for climate change at the World Bank, told Devex in an exclusive interview.

With every disaster, the international humanitarian system proves its ever-growing efficiency. Aid efforts in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, for instance, were generally viewed as a great success.

But beyond reaction, movers and shakers gathered in Japan have now agreed to put disaster risk reduction at the forefront of their development efforts. Especially amid the grim realization that the drivers of disaster risk — poverty, improper land use, environmental degradation, lack of building codes, weak governance and climate change — are the same factors undermining sustainable development.

A ‘real shift forward’

As U.N. member states gear up for an eventful year in international development full of tough decisions, many of the questions currently being debated in Sendai are expected to permeate talks on the post-2015 development agenda and a legally binding global treaty on climate change.

In this context, Kyte believes the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and resilience into development efforts is finally making “a real shift forward.”

How so?

For one, concrete discussions on how to make development spending supportive of resilience are finally taking place. Government and civil society leaders seem to be edging closer to an agreement on a common formula for the financing of disaster risk reduction.

“There is an emerging conversation around humanitarian relief, development assistance and the new emerging climate finance architecture — the three sources of international spending on disaster risk reduction,” Kyte explained to Devex. Each of these financing streams is governed by different rules and structures, a situation which the global development community is realizing might be too difficult for a vulnerable country to navigate, she noted.

More than international financing for disaster risk reduction, Kyte highlighted that crucial questions about the sort of economic policies, fiscal tools and insurance mechanisms that countries need to spur resilience are being addressed.

“How can local governments get access to funds to build their resilience? How can you make sure that women, smallholders and small-business owners have access to microinsurance and insurance?” she asked. “Those are some of the questions that are being answered.”

Challenges ahead

But for all her optimism, the World Bank’s special envoy admitted that the road to better disaster risk reduction is still long.

Citing upcoming negotiations on a post-2015 development agenda, financing for development and climate change, Kyte noted that articulating all of these policies and priorities into a coherent and integrated vision for the future is bound to be a “complicated choreography.”

Credible progress in global issues such as poverty, gender equality and global warming is dependent on an effective approach to disaster risk reduction, she stressed, but “it’s going to require partnerships in a way that we have not necessarily always been able to pull off before.”

Meanwhile, in the context of cash-strapped development budgets, careful stewardship of domestic resources will be required in all countries. Development assistance and climate financing will also have to be used in a smart “catalytic” way, according to Kyte.

The budgetary dent disaster losses represent is considerable. The 2015 global assessment report on disaster risk reduction evaluated the financial cost of repairing infrastructure damage caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, tropical cyclones and floods at a massive $314 billion per year.

Conversely, the World Bank found that every dollar invested in early warning can produce a return of between $30 and $40.

“Investing in disaster risk reduction is very smart and humane,” Kyte emphasized. “It would be nonsensical to not want to make sure that everybody has access to early warning.”

Cyclone Pam, which struck Vanuatu and its neighboring countries in the Pacific on March 13, is a timely reminder of the difficulty to achieve sustained and sustainable development without integrating disaster risk reduction into development strategies.

“What has just happened to the people of Vanuatu must spur us forward,” Kyte said. “Every one of these storms is wiping out a large part of the growth capacity and development strides that many countries have earned in the last few years, and if that doesn’t spur negotiators forward, then I don’t know what will.”

According to the latest estimates, 132,000 people — or half of the Vanuatu’s total population — have reportedly been affected by the category 5 cyclone.

Do you think the Sendai framework will be more catalytic than the 2005 Hyogo framework in spurring resilience-driven development? Share your opinion by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Manola De Vos

    Manola De Vos is an Engagement Lead for Devex’s Analytics team in Manila. She leads and designs customized research and analysis for some of the world’s most well-respected organizations, providing the solutions and data they need to grow their partner base, work more efficiently, and drive lasting results. Prior to joining Devex, Manola worked in conflict analysis and political affairs for the United Nations, International Crisis Group and the EU.