Disasters are threat to human rights

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
UNISDR chief, Mami Mizutori, speaking at the Human Rights Council
UNISDR chief, Mami Mizutori, speaking at the Human Rights Council

GENEVA, 26 February, 2019 - The Human Rights Council was told yesterday that “nothing lays bare inequality and discrimination like a disaster.”

The Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori, added: “The failure to acknowledge human rights creates marginalized and vulnerable groups that face discrimination and exclusion. These vulnerable populations are far more likely to suffer disproportionately from disasters.”

Ms. Mizutori said: “Nowhere is this more evident than at the intersection of risk, climate change and human rights.”

It was the first time that the Human Rights Council invited the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction to participate in its annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming and address the issue of disaster risk reduction in the context of climate change.

Ms. Mizutori cited the example of last month’s Bruhmadinho mining tailings dam disaster in which hundreds of people were left dead or missing.

“The disregard of known risk compounded into a wall of mud that demonstrated a corresponding disregard for human rights. We are encouraged that the Brazilian Government is moving firmly towards putting regulations in place which would demand appropriate decision-making around critical infrastructure,” she said.

Citing the displacement of 2.6 million people by extreme weather events in sub-Saharan Africa in 2017, Ms. Mizutori said that “such displacement can make people vulnerable to trafficking, abuse and harassment in certain contexts. The link between climate change and human mobility is posing a major risk to human rights.”

Ms. Mizutori also explained that the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction is the custodian of the global plan for reducing disaster risk and losses, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction which was adopted in 2015.

“We operate from the starting point that preventing and reducing disaster risk is also the means to protect and promote human rights.

“The Sendai Framework clearly puts ‘people’ in the centre and calls for the promotion and protection of all human rights

“A key theme of the agreement is accountability, emphasizing the importance of disaster risk reduction being integrated into public policy, further refining how basic human rights can be protected alongside the prevention of disaster.”

She was encouraged to see an increasing emphasis within the Human Rights Treaty Bodies on the Sendai Framework and disaster risk reduction including in the guidelines to State Parties of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

“But challenges remain: human rights and disaster risk reduction have not yet been sufficiently linked programmatically. We must do more to ensure disaster risk reduction initiatives are implemented through a rights-based approach,” Ms. Mizutori said.

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