U.N. forum brainstorms new framework for disaster risk reduction

Kyodo

Amid growing concern that climate change may bring more natural calamities, the international community highlighted the need to boost measures and investment on disaster risk reduction at a U.N. conference that began Saturday in Sendai.

More than 5,000 participants, including government leaders and high-level officials from around the world, were expected to attend the five-day meeting in Tohoku, which was severely damaged by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, and ensuing nuclear crisis, three days after Japan marked the fourth anniversary of the unprecedented calamity.

During the once-in-a-decade U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, delegations from over 160 countries are slated to adopt a new action plan aimed at mitigating the impact of disasters to replace the Hyogo Framework for Action that covered the past 10 years.

“Climate change is intensifying the risks for hundreds of millions of people, particularly in small island developing states and coastal areas. … Disaster risk reduction is a front-line defense against the impacts of climate change. It is a smart investment for business and a wise investment in saving lives,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the opening session.

According to a report by the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, global economic losses caused by disasters including quakes, tsunami, cyclones and flooding are estimated at between $250 billion and $300 billion on average each year.

This figure is projected to increase to as much as $314 billion in the future, highlighting the need for more disaster-related measures and investment.

“We can watch that number grow as more people suffer. Or we can dramatically lower that figure and use the savings to invest in development,” Ban said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that Japan will offer $4 billion in aid for global efforts to enhance disaster management over four years through 2018, including support for building infrastructure in developing countries.

“Our nation, which has accumulated knowledge and technologies of disaster prevention as we experienced many natural hazards, has promoted cooperation with international society to reduce the number of disaster victims,” Abe said in a speech delivered at a plenary session of the conference.

“It is important that we place disaster prevention as our highest priority in the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals agenda as well as the new framework on climate change,” Abe said.

The U.N. conference is also seen as an important opportunity to highlight the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and to prod many countries to prioritize addressing such risk to ensure sustainable economic growth, especially in developing economies, given that about 90 percent of victims around the world are from such countries.

Around 1.2 million people were killed and 2.9 billion affected by disasters between 2000 and 2012, with the economic damage totaling an estimated $1.7 trillion during the period, according to the United Nations.

The new action plan to be adopted in Sendai is expected to set numerical targets for the first time to reduce the number of victims and economic losses so progress in international efforts against natural hazards can be assessed, conference officials said.

A total of seven targets will likely be laid out, including for reducing disaster damage to infrastructure, raising the number of countries with anti-disaster strategies and enhancing financial aid for developing economies.

On the sidelines of the plenary meetings, ministerial round tables will be held comprising more than 30 working sessions as well as high-level dialogue sessions covering a wide range of disaster issues.

Approximately 350 symposiums and seminars organized by international nongovernmental bodies and other entities will also take place during the conference.