Heads of delegations gather to mark the conclusion of three days of talks that saw the endorsment of a landmark regional disaster risk reduction plan for the Americas (Photo: Public Safety Canada)
By Jonathan Fowler
MONTREAL, Canada, 9 March 2017 – The Americas region today took a landmark step on the road to resilience by adopting an action plan to tackle the huge array of natural and human-induced hazards that its dozens of countries and territories face.
After three days of talks, ministers gathered at the Canadian-hosted 5th Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas endorsed the plan, which runs to 2019. Its aim is to align regional, national and local strategies in the Americas with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year agreement adopted by the international community in 2015.
“This really is a wonderful, historic, landmark outcome for disaster risk reduction in the region,” said Mr. Robert Glasser, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.
“What has been agreed here in Montreal is the first action plan for the region, by the region, to reduce disaster risk. And disaster risk is not a hypothetical subject. It’s a matter of life, of death and of prosperity,” he added.
The Montreal conference drew a thousand delegates from over 50 countries and territories from the vast Americas region, which stretches from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic.
Besides the ministers who negotiated the action plan and the associated Montreal Declaration, participants included disaster risk reduction practitioners who took the opportunity to share lessons of dealing with hazards that are compounded by factors such as poverty, breakneck urbanization, and climate change.
“I’m proud to stand with my colleagues from across the Americas and take this important step forward to meet the commitments of the Sendai Framework together,” said Mr. Ralph Goodale, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, who presided over the meeting.
”Disaster risk reduction efforts have proven time and again that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Our collective efforts to prevent and mitigate – as governments, stakeholders, and as proud citizens and community members – will cost far less than the cost of responding and rebuilding, and the loss of lives and livelihood.”
The conference followed a year in which the Americas continued to feel the consequences of a strong El Niño, over a thousand lives were lost in the Ecuador earthquake and the onslaught of Hurricane Matthew, notably in Haiti, while Canada faced its most expensive disaster ever in the shape of the massive Fort McMurray fire, and swathes of Chile and California also burned.
While disaster deaths have gradually fallen around the world – expect in freak years marked by mega-disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the 2010 Haiti earthquake – economic impacts have skyrocketed and are now estimated at US$500 billion a year.
Hurricane Matthew alone caused damage estimated at US$15 billion when it scythed across Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, the United States and the Canadian Maritimes last October.
It was a stark reminder that disasters can swallow scarce resources that could otherwise have been invested in health and education, particularly in low- and middle-economic countries that can least afford the losses. Hurricane Matthew cost Haiti around one-third of its Gross Domestic Product, in a country where over half of the population lives below the poverty line.
The Sendai Framework, the most risk-focused global blueprint ever, seeks to prevent hazards from turning into disasters at all.
“As you know, the Sendai Framework emphasizes the need to move from managing disasters to managing disaster risk,” said Mr. Glasser.
Its seven targets include substantially reducing lives lost, numbers of people affected, and economic losses. It also seeks to curb damage to critical infrastructure and disruption to basic services such as health and educational facilities. Other key aims are to increase the number of countries with national and local risk reduction strategies by 2020, bolster the capacity of developing countries, and vastly improve coverage by early warning systems.
The Sendai Framework also links closely with the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals, likewise adopted in 2015.
“The outcomes achieved at this Regional Platform will help national and local governments strengthen the links between climate action and economic development as well. This is going to be essential,” said Mr. Glasser.
The plan will also feed into the 2017 Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction, in Mexico in May. Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific have already laid out similar plans.
“Regional action is a critical way to drive real change, and we all look forward to sharing the valuable lessons that it offers when we meet at the Global Platform,” said Mr. Glasser.
The 6th Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas will be hosted by Colombia in 2018.