The Lancet’s verdict on the HFA – "a promising start"

By Denis McClean

GENEVA, 10 May, 2013 - The celebrated medical journal The Lancet is publishing a major review of the world's first comprehensive agreement on how to reduce disaster risk, the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), under the headline "Mitigating disasters -- a promising start."

The publication in next week's issue is timed to coincide with a major HFA stock-taking exercise which will take place when 3,000 participants gather in Geneva on May 21 for the UNISDR-organized Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The Lancet recalls the history of the HFA and its origins at the last World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, just weeks after the Indian Ocean tsunami. The framework provides a comprehensive, integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to identifying and implementing disaster risk reduction measures.

"The 2005 conference that spawned the Hyogo Framework gave it 10 years to improve the resilience of countries in the face of disasters. Certainly, the number of countries buying into the framework's full process has grown, from 90 in 2007, to 139 today. By January 2013, 121 countries had enacted legislation aimed at reducing the potential impact of disasters. To date, 45 countries have reported great progress and a further 44, average-to-good progress, in complying with the framework's requirements."

Mark Keim, associate director for science in the Office of Environmental Health Emergencies at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, USA, told The Lancet: "The Hyogo Framework shifted the disaster management paradigm from what was largely a reactive focus to what now includes a more proactive approach to prevention. Before Hyogo we focused on the hazard -- the hurricane or the earthquake -- as the cause of a disaster but we know now that the cause of a disaster is not just the hazard but rather how vulnerable the population is."

Prof. Virginia Murray, head of Extreme Events and Health Protection at Public Health, England, sees the HFA as "a magnificent achievement and a good start to reducing the risks associated with disasters."

The Lancet cites a number of examples where building resilience to disasters has clearly paid off including the greatly reduced death tolls from floods in China and cyclones in Bangladesh as a result of wide-scale early warning and evacuation systems. Mozambique's efforts at emergency flood preparedness are also cited.

In a wide-ranging interview, the Head of UNISDR, Margareta Wahlström, said: "Most countries have, to one extent or another, acted on the framework's recommendations and have begun making improvements in their early warning systems and evacuation procedures. Moreover, countries with large populations and highly exposed to disasters, such as China, Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines, have made good progress in fulfilling the Hyogo requirements."

She identified outreach to communities and local governments as a key remaining challenge which is partly being addressed by the UNISDR Making Cities Resilient Campaign which 1,423 cities and towns have signed up to.

Looking forward to the HFA2 which will be agreed in 2015, Jonathan Abrahams, who coordinate's WHO's work on the management of disaster risks, said: "health is central to the work being carried out on reducing the risks associated with all types of disasters. I think the framework could be more explicit about the central role of health outcomes for people at risk of disasters."

Prof. Murray would like to see a clearer role for evidence-based science and technology in informing policy decisions relating to disasters.

The Lancet notes that there have been 75 consultations on the HFA2 organized by UNISDR over the last year. Many of the options will be debated and discussed at the Global Platform later this month.
The Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2018, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 3-6 July 2018 The Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2018, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 3-6 July 2018.
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