Investing in disaster resilience vital for sustainable development – senior UN official

In the Caribbean, the average annual losses associated with tropical cyclone winds alone, such as this damage caused by Tropical Storm Isaac in Haiti in 2012, are projected to increase by as much as $1.4 billion by 2050. Photo: UN/MINUSTAH/ Logan Abassi

New York, 4 March 2015 – Reducing poverty, improving health and education for all, achieving of sustainable and equitable economic growth and protecting the health of our planet now depend on the management of disaster risks in the day-to-day decisions of governments, companies, investors, civil society organizations, households and individuals, according to a new United Nations report out today.

“The report is a wake-up call for countries to increase their commitment to invest in smart solutions to strengthen resilience to disasters,” according to UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström whose Office prepared the 2015 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction.

Stressing that strengthened disaster risk reduction is essential to make development sustainable, the report, launched today by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at UN Headquarters, comes 10 days before of the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, where some 8,000 delegates will be gathering from 14-18 March to adopt a framework to success the landmark Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), Ms. Wahlström told a press conference.

Born in 2005 out of the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, the Hyogo Framework is a 10-year plan, the first to explain, describe and detail the work that is required to reduce disaster losses.

The Sendai conference will be the first landmark meeting of a particularly crucial UN year as the Organization is set to lead the global development and climate agenda at a number of major international events: an international meeting in Paris in December on the adoption of a universal text on climate change; the UN special summit in September for the adoption of a global sustainability agenda; and the financing for development conference in July in Addis Ababa, to renew commitment to global development financing.

Ms. Wahlström told reporters the new framework to be agreed in Sendai would address technological categories such as nuclear hazards linked to natural disasters, citing the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that occurred in wake of the earthquake-induced tsunami in northern Japan.

She also said the new framework would include heath and health hazards driven by global epidemics and pandemics in recent years such as SARS [Severe acute respiratory syndrome] and the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Both Ms. Wahlström and the report’s author, Andrew Maskrey, spoke of the importance of investment with risk and resilience at the core. “We need to look at how we can get risk management fully hardwired into the DNA of development,” he said.

Mr. Maskrey said the world risks some $300 billion from disaster losses, which he said translates into $70 per working age person on this planet, which the report said “two months’ income for people living below the poverty line: an existential risk for people already struggling for survival on a daily basis.

“If we do not address risk reduction, future losses from disaster will increase and this will impact countries’ capacity to invest money in other areas such as health and education, explained Ms. Wahlström. “If we do not take the necessary measures now, it will be difficult to achieve development, let alone sustainable development.”

In response to a question from a reporter on climate change, Mr. Maskrey cited that in the Caribbean, for example, the average annual losses associated with tropical cyclone winds alone are projected to increase by as much as $1.4 billion by 2050.

And the report said that by 2050, it is estimated that 40 per cent of the global population will be living in river basins that experience severe water stress, particularly in Africa and Asia.

“You have to plan what is going to happen in the future,” Mr. Maskrey told reporters.

According to the report, an annual global investment of $6 billion in disaster risk management strategies would generate total benefits in terms of risk reduction of $360 billion. This is equivalent to a 20 per cent reduction of new and additional annual economic losses.