Q&A with Mami Mizutori
What is the significance of Target (e)?
The Sendai Framework for disaster risk reduction has 7 global targets which need to be achieved by 2030. There is one target, which we call the Target (e), which needs to be achieved by the end of 2020.
This is about both national and local disaster risk reduction strategies to be in place. Now why are all these strategies so important? And why did we decide to draft and produce a Words into Action guide for this specific Target (e)?
The figures talk for themselves. During the past 20 years disasters have killed 1.3 million people and affected 4.4 billion more. They have injured people, made them homeless, and required them to accept emergency assistance. Meanwhile, some 26 million people every year are pushed back into poverty. The World Bank calculates the economic loss, the real economic loss from these disasters, is US$ 520 billion dollars each year.
Now the majority of these fatalities are caused by earthquakes and tsunamis, but 90 percent of these disasters are related to climate change.
And yet 90 percent of disaster funding is spent only after disaster strikes. It goes on relief, the response and reconstruction. Only 10 percent is spent on prevention. But the gap is widening between the need for humanitarian aid and what the international community is able to provide. We need to do more prevention. And this is what the Sendai framework is talking about.
Target (e) reminds us that we need to have strategies for disaster risk reduction at both the national and local level. Without these strategies, people will not care about prevention. Each one of us needs to understand the need to change behavior and to prevent more. We need to manage not just disasters, but also disaster risk. We need national and local stakeholders to help put together strategies on disaster risk reduction.
How do the various UN frameworks all fit together?
The year 2015 was a spectacular year for the international community in the sense that many important global agreements on our future were adopted. The first one was the Sendai framework, followed by Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, then the Paris Agreement for climate change. We also have the New Urban Agenda, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for sustainable development and the agenda for humanities.
I believe firmly that the Sendai Framework sits in the middle of all these. It’s like a connecting tissue for these different global agenda. Why? Because if we are not able to reduce disaster risk, if we are not able to stop creating new risks of disaster, then we cannot sustain development.
If we do not have the mindset that any development at national or local level has to be risk informed then we are just creating new risk. This is especially true for infrastructure. If we create infrastructure which is not risk informed, then we are just creating trillions and trillions of dollars worth of new risks. We know that 90% of major disasters in the past 20 years are related somehow to climate change. If we cannot mitigate, if we cannot adapt to climate change, then we cannot stop the flow of disasters. The traditionally disaster prone countries are suffering but now we are also seeing heat waves and wildfires in regions such as Northern Europe. This issue is affecting us globally.
To give another example, informal and unplanned urbanization is creating more risks. What can be more dangerous or risky than urbanization which is unrelated to the risks we face, both natural and human-induced. We must put disaster risk reduction into the middle of all these global agenda. Disaster risk reduction serves as the connecting tissue.
What is UNDRR doing to reduce the burden on small countries and other countries to tackle all these agreements at once?
Many Member States are struggling because there are so many plans and strategies to achieve. They have so many indicators to report against. So what can we do to lessen the burden on these countries, especially the least developed countries and small island developing states? Some of these governments have an integrated plan that binds disaster risk reduction, climate adaptation and mitigation, and – importantly - sustainable development. These agendas are all connected.
The UNDRR has worked with the UNFCCC to develop technical guidelines on how to integrate national adaptation plans and disaster risk reduction strategies. Some 10 countries are now using this approach and the UNDRR is aiming to widen the uptake.
Why is disaster risk reduction one of the prerequisites for building resilience?
When I talk about disaster risk reduction on panels and in speeches, I am astonished by the frequency with which people now refer to resilience. When do we mean by resilience? We are talking about a society in which people can cope with shocks when they come and which can also bounce back better and stronger from that shock.
We tend to think of sudden onset disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, but slow onset disasters, such as droughts, will likely have a bigger impact in the future. Protracted conflict can make some societies and countries very fragile.
One key concept now is that the risk landscape is changing very rapidly. The risks we face are not single risks any more, they are systemic. The impacts cascade. We need many things to build a resilient society.
To do so, we need to prevent new risk. This is an important feature of the Sendai framework. It means that new investments need to be risk-informed. They need to factor in disaster and climate risk. We must also reduce existing risk, mitigate risk, introduce more nature-based solutions, and be aware of vulnerabilities in society. Where are people most vulnerable from disasters. Resilience is not just about the physical aspect of our world, it’s also about identifying the vulnerable and giving them a voice in strategies for disaster risk reduction.
Vulnerable individuals and communities can help each other and become resilient together. Besides government, civil society, communities have an important role to play in building resilience.
Insurance is an important risk transfer mechanism. When disaster strikes, insurance payouts can help you to build back. We now have better forecasting methods to say when disasters are coming and what their impact will be. With forecast-based insurance, individuals and communities can receive funding before the disaster comes. This helps them to be more preventive and more resilient so that recovery will be much swifter. This is just one example of how systems can be transformed to build resilience.
What is the paradigm shift we see represented in the Sendai Framework?
Before Sendai, it was about managing disasters. People knew that disasters were very, very undermining. So, the focus was on an adequate response. But now that we are experiencing disasters that are more intense and more frequent, the UN Member States acknowledged through the Sendai Framework disaster management is just not enough. We need a paradigm shift from managing disasters to managing disaster risk. Essentially, this is about prevention. This is about building a society which is resilient and preventive so that we can bounce back better from disaster. This is the Sendai Framework’s big difference.
There is awareness of the need for a paradigm shift. But I would argue that we are still not there. Governments are still too busy managing disasters. Too much money is still spent after disaster. UNDRR exists to make this paradigm shift happen. And by the way we only have 10 more years to achieve the goals of the Sendai Framework. The UN Secretary-General has declared that the coming decade is the decade of action. If we do not succeed, then the future of this planet is in jeopardy. We have no option but to implement the Sendai Framework for disaster risk reduction.
What does the Words Into Action guide say about strategies on disaster risk?
The Words into Action guideline has three goals. First, national strategies should connect disaster risk reduction, sustainable development, and climate change adaptation. This will not work if ministries work in silos. National strategies on disaster risk reduction should reflect this connection clearly.
Second, this guide should help governments to mainstream disaster risk reduction throughout government and society. Many countries have a national agency in charge of disaster management, but often this is not the strongest agency. They advocate for disaster risk reduction, but other ministries do not always listen and they may struggle for budget allocations. Unless disaster risk reduction is part of each and every policy, then it’s not going to happen.
Thirdly, national governments need disaster risk reduction strategies, but local governments need them too. National and local strategies must be aligned.