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Critics blast U.N. disaster risk framework as insufficient



The U.N. conference that wrapped up early Thursday in Sendai was the highest-level international meeting on disaster risk reduction ever, but the resulting set of seven goals to combat disasters are far from ambitious, critics say.

The new action plan, adopted overnight Wednesday following prolonged negotiations, was initially expected to include specific numbers or percentages on reducing deaths and economic losses, and boosting financial aid for developing countries.

But the post-2015 Sendai framework only said national governments will aim to “substantially” reduce such losses in the next 15 years compared with the 10 years through 2015. Earlier proposals made by host Japan and others on percentage goals were rejected by Western countries, including the United States, delegation sources said.

A Japanese official said participants from developed countries were generally very careful about what they would commit to, as decisions in Sendai would likely affect the direction of global negotiations on development and climate change later this year.

“It is just not possible to hammer out something perfect . . . but we came up with something that everybody can swallow,” the official said, referring to the framework.

The start of the Sendai conference on Saturday coincided with Cyclone Pam, which tore through the Southern Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu and neighboring islands. Participants in various sessions underscored calls for pre-emptive investment against disasters amid increased threats from climate change.

Activists and experts hailed the adoption of the seven new goals that were not included in the previous action plan worked out in 2005.

But they were disappointed that the governments “diluted the targets at the expenses of the poor and vulnerable communities” in the framework, according to their statement.

“There needs to be more specific numerical targets if we really were to address disasters,” said Masaaki Ohashi, chairman of the Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation.

The outcome shows that “none of the nations wanted to be held accountable” for the framework’s level of attainment, he added.

Hannington Alatoa, president of the Vanuatu Red Cross Society, said a lack of unity between developed and less-developed economies during the negotiations shows a “grim picture of the future.”

The world needs to recognize the “reality and make a difference in terms of commitment and having a positive impact . . . especially on the developing nations,” he said.

A drastic reduction of disaster-related losses, as pledged in the framework, may prove to be difficult without a stronger commitment. At least that is what a new study by risk modeling software provider Air Worldwide shows. It indicates that the present attitude suggests there is little prospect of reducing economic losses from the current levels of $240 billion per year.

Milan Simic, the company’s senior vice president, said: “The study tells us that it is next to impossible to reduce existing levels of economic losses, but that they provide a baseline and a context for improving on key areas of development over the lifetime of the new framework.”


Gist of action plan for disaster risk reduction

The U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai has issued an action plan urging countries to:

  • Substantially reduce global disaster mortality and the number of affected people worldwide, both by 2030.
  • Reduce direct disaster-related economic losses in terms of gross domestic product by 2030.
  • Substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure.
  • Significantly increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020.
  • Boost access to multi-hazard early warning systems by 2030.
  • Greatly enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate support.
  • Address climate change as one of the drivers of disaster risk.