Reducing the risk of disasters caused by natural hazards such as drought needs to be part of humanitarian and development aid (Photo: UN Photo/WFP/Phil Behan)
By Jonathan Fowler
NEW YORK, 26 September 2015 – Disaster risk reduction needs to be included squarely in humanitarian aid programmes and development policies, given its power to save lives and money, delegates at the United Nations sustainable development summit heard today.
In a wide-ranging debate on how to ensure that aid has a sustainable impact, a string of speakers said that curbing the risks posed by natural hazards such as drought and man-made factors including violence was an essential piece of the puzzle, and made far more sense than picking up the pieces after a disaster.
Ms. Kristalina Georgieva, Co-chair of the UN High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Funding and Vice-President of the European Commission, said the complex, cross-cutting nature of such threats was clear.
“Two-thirds of the most fragile states are equally subject to climate impacts and to conflict,” said Ms. Georgieva, who since 2014 has been a UNISDR Disaster Risk Reduction Champion – a title awarded to individuals who advocate for a disaster-resilient approach in their home country and beyond.
The debate came a day after the UN summit adopted “Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, a package of 17 interlinked goals that aim, by 2030, to eradicate extreme poverty, promote prosperity and people's well-being, while protecting the environment.
Six of the goals relate directly to disaster risk reduction, recognizing that reducing exposure and vulnerability of the poor to disasters is essential for sustainable poverty eradication, and underlining the importance of resilient infrastructure, improved urban planning, and climate adaption and ecosystem protection.
The 2030 Agenda aligns with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year roadmap adopted by the international community in March this year at the Third World Conference of Disaster Risk Reduction in the Japanese city of Sendai. The Sendai Framework seeks a substantial reduction in mortality, in the numbers of people affected by disasters, in economic losses and in damage to critical infrastructure.
Mr. Akihiko Tanaka, President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said it was high time for a new model in which risk reduction, prevention, and humanitarian and development aid are seen as part of a whole.
He underlined that in Sendai, the international community agreed that “build back better” should be the watchword – in other words, ensuring that the vicious cycle of risk-driving practices, such as poor quality construction, is not endlessly repeated after a disaster.
Mr. Tanaka said that this approach could well be deployed by all players: “Build back better should be adopted in all other humanitarian crises, including conflict.”
Mr. Jim Clarken, Chief Executive Officer of Oxfam Ireland, underlined that prevention has been the poor cousin in the aid world for decades.
“Over the past 30 years, 0.4 percent of humanitarian funding has gone to disaster risk reduction. Yet it costs four to seven times more to repair than to prevent,” he said.
He also called for more money to be spent on helping at-risk communities to help themselves, noting that local people are the first responders in a crisis and that it can be far more cost-effective to harness their knowledge and skills.
Businesses are also an critical part of the picture, given that their ability is withstand shocks is an important way of making economies and societies resilient.
“We need to get the private sector on side to say how investing now actually helps save money in the future,” said Ms. Yoka Brandt, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.