SENDAI – The international community needs to invest more in pre-emptive measures to reduce risks from natural disasters, rather than spending a lot after they happen, according to the head of the U.N. Development Program.
“You could say it’s a no-brainer that needs more priority,” said Administrator Helen Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand.
Natural disasters between 2005 and 2014 resulted in an estimated $1.4 trillion in economic damage, of which some $9 billion was spent on Haiti alone after more than 300,000 people died there in an earthquake in 2010, according to the United Nations.
“I think there is now a high degree of awareness . . . that it is not enough just to be generous when disaster strikes,” Clark said. “Disaster risk reduction is like the dog that doesn’t bark. You don’t know how much you are saving until disaster strikes.”
Clark, who is in Sendai for a U.N. conference on disaster risk reduction, also said countries around the world have made “huge strides” in lessening disaster risks over the past decade under the Hyogo Framework for Action, adopted at the last conference in 2005.
A new framework covering the next 15 years will be adopted at the Sendai forum and is expected to include for the first time numerical targets on disaster risk reduction, such as the percentage of countries having specific plans of this kind.
Clark expressed hope this will encourage national governments to take action.
But she also mentioned the difficulty of agreeing to any binding numerical goals at international meetings.
“If countries are making binding commitments they are very careful about what they want to commit to,” Clark said, citing the problems reaching deals on climate change targets.
Regarding the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged northeastern Japan, Clark said she has felt “the determination of the region to rebuild.”
She said it is “inspirational to see a community recovering from something as dramatic as that.”
The five-day U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will wrap up Wednesday.