Focusing on the future of disaster risk reduction: delegates work and debate during a break in Tuesday's session (Photo: UNISDR)
By Jonathan Fowler
GENEVA, 9 February 2016 – Governments are this week stepping up efforts to implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction by crafting ways to measure progress in curbing deaths and economic losses through to 2030.
Delegates have gathered in Geneva for a three-day session of what is known as the Open-Ended Intergovernmental Expert Working Group on Indicators and Terminology Relating to Disaster Risk Reduction.
Mr. Robert Glasser , the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) , told participants their work was “fundamentally important” for the Sendai Framework, which was adopted in March last year and which aims by 2030 to bring about a substantial reduction in deaths and economic losses caused by natural and man-made hazards.
The Sendai Framework dovetails with other international processes, notably the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change, which were likewise adopted in 2015.
Mr. Wayne McCook, Jamaica’s UN ambassador, is chairing the meetings that are taking place from Tuesday to Thursday. He was also at the helm of key stages during the drafting of the Sendai Framework itself.
“The Sendai Framework set a number of targets to which countries are committed,” Mr. McCook explained during a break in Tuesday’s first session.
“The indicators will be the main means by which we will track our ability to meet the targets that we have set, so that they are not just an empty set of commitments or promises, but something that we will actually seek to achieve by deliberate measures and action, as well as by assessments,” he added.
Despite a gradual shift over the past two decades from seeing disasters through the lens of humanitarian relief to confronting risk head on, and despite successes in bringing down disaster mortality, economic losses have risen steadily, exacerbated by climate change, unbalanced urbanization and growing inequalities.
Losses from disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones and flooding now average US$250 billion to US$300 billion a year, according to UNISDR’s 2015 Global Assessment Report. Behind the figures lie stories of lost livelihoods and of repeated blows to development and national budgets.
The Sendai Framework aims to drive better governance and understanding of risk, greater investment in resilience and enhanced preparedness for effective response, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction. It hinges on seven global targets including substantial reductions in disaster mortality, numbers of people affected, economic losses and damage to critical infrastructure.
To assess progress in meeting them over the next decade and a half, it will be essential for countries to have a common understanding of what they are measuring, both in terms of the scale of the problems faced and the impact of disaster risk reduction efforts.
That includes classifying types of hazards, ranging from meteorological events such as storms to threats such as earthquakes, bio-hazards including disease outbreaks, as well as man-made disasters caused by industrial accidents.
“We're really building blocks here for a deeper understanding of hazards,” Mr. McCook told the meeting.
Mr. Julio Serje, programme officer at UNISDR’s Risk Knowledge Section, gave delegates a detailed presentation on proposed indicators, including equations to measure economic losses in a range of sectors and ways to ensure data is gathered consistently right down to the local level.
“We need to give disaster risk reduction granularity,” Mr. Serje said.
He noted, however, that creating the big picture of disaster risk and progress should not be an uphill task: “The idea is to have something simple because obviously we don't want to overburden countries with data collection.”