Disaster resilience to leave no one behind

Schoolchildren and villagers in Fiji are taught and trained to prepare for and respond to disasters like floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. Harold Brooks of American Red Cross advocates for the integration of disaster risk resilience in the post-2015 agenda. Photo by: Rob Few / IFRC / CC BY-NC-ND

Over the last 15 years, the American Red Cross has worked to support the Millennium Development Goals, which come to an end next year.

Conceived in 2000, the MDGs range from eradicating extreme poverty and achieving universal primary education to improving maternal health and ensuring environmental sustainability. They are ambitious, and the world has made notable progress toward meeting some of their targets.

The 2013 U.N. report on MDGs progress indicates the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day has decreased by half since 1990, and more than 2.1 billion people accessed better sources of drinking water. Global mortality rates from malaria fell by over a quarter between 2000 and 2010. The Measles & Rubella Initiative — of which the American Red Cross is a founding partner — has vaccinated more than a billion children against measles since 2001, aiming to eradicate the disease by 2020. This global initiative is helping to meet the goal of reducing child mortality.

However, still today more than a billion people live in extreme poverty. Tonight, more than 800 million people will go to bed hungry. And tomorrow, tens of millions of people will awaken homeless, having been displaced by conflict, violence and natural disasters. With time running out to define a new development framework by late 2015, the global community must press our leaders to consider the needs of the world’s poorest people, many of whom disproportionately face disaster risks.

This is why the post-2015 development agenda must include cross-cutting targets to strengthen community resilience to hazards and shocks. Such targets can improve the long-term wellbeing of vulnerable people who face uncertainty on a daily basis. Governments should not assume the Hyogo Framework for Action 2, a global compact on disaster risk reduction, is enough to integrate DRR into social, economic and environmental goals. Disasters do not occur in a vacuum, sealed off from existing individual and community realities. Providing tools and incentives to manage risks should happen on all possible fronts.

We should feel a sense of urgency because disasters roll back years of development advances. Hard-fought gains to alleviate poverty can be eliminated in a matter of seconds, as we saw in Haiti in 2010. Disasters also don’t respect borders — in 2008, a breach in Nepal’s Kosi river embankment changed the river’s course, flooding villages in both Nepal and India, and driving millions from their homes.

The economic repercussions of disasters can be staggering, spanning across global supply chains. Japan’s earthquake and tsunami in 2011 resulted in parts shortages that affected the production of Toyota automobiles in the United States, the United Kingdom, India and China. According to the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s 2013 Global Assessment Report, Toyota lost more than $1 billion in product revenues.

While the big disasters make the news, there are countless small, recurring disasters, largely due to climate — storms, cyclones, floods, and drought — that often go unreported and are increasing in frequency and severity. If development programs fail to incorporate DRR into planning, the impact of these events will intensify.

Hazards must be viewed holistically. DRR is a guaranteed investment that contributes to effective development work. This is why negotiations revolving around both the post-2015 development framework and HFA2 must be coherent and their outcomes integrated.  

Strengthening the resilience of communities to meet these challenges is the collective responsibility of governments, and constitutes a vital bridge between development and humanitarian organizations.  

It is a necessity for businesses and an imperative for communities themselves. We have an unprecedented opportunity to ensure sound DRR policies are apparent throughout post-2015. Let’s take advantage of it.

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About the author

  • Harold Brooks

    Harold Brooks is senior vice president for international operations at the American Red Cross since January 2013. With over 30 years of experience in development, before joining the organization Brooks was previously country director for AfriCare in Kenya, and head of the Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea.