Community resilience is key
The closure of the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) last week in Bangkok is the next big step for global and regional work toward the 3rd World Conference on DRR to be held in Sendai, Japan, in March 2015. The Asia-Pacific region has, over the past few years, borne 80 percent of the global losses resulting from disasters.
The region, particularly Asia, is home to the majority of the world’s population, including poor people numbering around one billion. More than half of their income and livelihood depends largely on the weather, according to studies.
As almost 3,000 conference participants from over 50 countries have agreed that DRR is essential for sustainable economic growth, the challenge facing Asia is how to bring DRR, climate change, and development together to ensure resilience while preventing the reversal of economic progress that countries have achieved.
The creation of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) in 2005 was a great moment where a global commitment was made to cut disaster losses through systematic and coordinated risk management. However, this has not been realized due to a lack of investment in DRR.
Without good DRR, sustainable development is compromised. The poorest and most vulnerable are in a perpetual cycle of poverty, and countries are unable to cope with disaster shocks, many of which are climate-related.
In 2013, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said disaster losses globally topped $100 billion for three consecutive years (2010 to 2012), exceeding the potential of total humanitarian aid. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that natural hazards in the past two decades killed 1.3 million people, affected 4.4 billion people, and caused $2 trillion in economic losses.
According to a report titled “Geography of Poverty, Disaster and Climate Extremes in 2030,” Tropical Storm “Ondoy” and Typhoon “Pepeng” in the Philippines doubled the incidence of poverty from 5.5 percent in 2006 to 9.5 percent in 2009. It is possible that the aftermath of Typhoon “Yolanda,” which devastated parts of central Philippines last year, will follow a similar pattern.
The pattern only worsens poverty and inequality for poor people. It destroys their livelihoods and homes and plunges them further into debt, so that they painfully recover from a disaster only to face a new one.
From now until the March 2015 meeting, countries must pave the way to ensure that the new HFA is in line with the post-2015 development agenda and the post-2015 process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. There is no question now that poverty eradication must go hand in hand with community resilience and environmental conservation.
A recent IPCC report showed climate change as one of the key drivers of disaster risks, which become greater with ever-growing populations and increased migration to urban areas. Many of these areas are low-lying and naturally vulnerable to disasters. Studies by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank revealed that Asia’s top 10 most vulnerable cities are located near coasts or waterways.
While the challenges are ever more daunting, countries must develop in a way that better accounts for disaster risks. Philippine climate change negotiator Yeb Saño said in the aftermath of Yolanda that the world must stop calling such events natural disasters. “Disasters are never natural. [They are] the intersection of factors other than physical. They are the accumulation of the constant breach of economic, social and environmental thresholds,” he said.
It is a fact that Asia is being exposed to disaster risks that are getting bigger than both our coping capacity and total humanitarian aid. Thus, countries must integrate climate change adaptation measures, disaster risk management, and development from the community level to the national level in an effective and practical way, in order to achieve the kind of resilience that allows for sustained development and poverty eradication.
Including vulnerable and marginalized communities in this process is the key. The more we equip local people with knowledge and resources, the less we will have to deal with economic losses.
Communities should be empowered to claim their rights and have access to key resources and knowledge for risk reduction.
Governments have the primary responsibility to make their citizens resilient by ensuring sustainable development, reducing disaster risks, and working with stakeholders such as civil society and the private sector. Through national advocacy, governments must forge coherence among national disaster management authorities and key development and planning and environment agencies.
The just concluded conference on DRR was the opportunity for Asia to voice its vision for the next HFA, but the path to Sendai and the finalization of the new HFA continues. Asia needs to ensure that the new HFA will offer a clear vision as well as principles for bold new action to address increasing disaster risk. It must also include community voices, be people-centered, and focus on building community resilience and equity for sustainable impacts.
And for long-term achievement, the next HFA must provide a new and practical way of mainstreaming DRR across government processes and decision-making. Without it, it would be hard for Asia to maintain its progress and development.
Cherian K. Mathews (CMathews@oxfam.org.uk) is the regional director for Oxfam-Asia.
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