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Five years ago, on March 18, 2015, then United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared that “sustainability begins in Sendai” as he launched the U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the areas hardest hit by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

With the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the conference laid the foundations for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a raft of agreements followed, including the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Ban’s successor, Antonio Guterres, has since made crisis prevention a priority, recognizing that ambitious action on disaster and climate risk is crucial to eradicate poverty (SDG 1) and eliminate hunger (SDG 2).

Concretely, if we are to ensure that development is risk-informed, we need access to robust data that gives an accurate picture of the full extent of risk we face from both man-made and natural hazards.

Since the Sendai Framework Monitor — an online data collection mechanism — was launched by the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) two years ago, U.N. member states have stepped up their efforts to systematically record their losses in line with the Sendai Framework’s seven targets including the reduction of mortality, numbers of people affected by disasters, direct economic losses and damage to critical infrastructure.

This year, to mark the fifth anniversary of the Sendai Framework, UNDRR is releasing a first snapshot of the statistics now available in the online report, “Monitoring the Implementation of Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030: A Snapshot of Reporting for 2018.” One revelation is that there is much greater loss of life from disasters than previously reported as the impact of smaller recurring events that usually do not capture the headlines are added to the major disaster events.

In 2018, 82 countries with a total population of 4 billion — including 33 least developed and land-locked developing countries — reported 22,000 people dead and 1,900 missing as a result of disasters caused by man-made or natural hazards. This is the double of previously published figures.

Another set of statistics underlines why so many people have been internally displaced by disasters in recent years.

In 2018, 72 countries with a combined population of 3.7 billion reported that 7.8 million (Asia and the Pacific accounting for 69 percent) had their homes damaged or destroyed and close to 25 million (Asia and the Pacific, 74 percent) had their livelihoods damaged or destroyed. A sample of 63 countries reporting on their direct economic losses for 2018 recorded losses of $13 billion in agriculture out of a total of $17.5 billion.

This number includes 28 least developed or land-locked developing countries and small island developing states, which reported that agriculture suffered the heaviest losses of all sectors, followed by damage to critical infrastructure and housing.

While these losses did not match what Europe lost in terms of absolute economic value, these figures are significant when seen as a percentage of the GDP of these countries and have undoubtedly undermined efforts to achieve the SDGs, including eradication of poverty.

The struggle to achieve the SDGs will be won or lost in low- and middle-income countries that have contributed least to the climate emergency but are suffering the most in terms of loss of life and lasting damage to their economies. The Sendai Framework Monitor provides an opportunity for these countries to report systematically on their economic losses which mainly stem from extreme weather events, particularly floods, storms and drought.

This helps build the case for climate justice and greater international support from those responsible for the continuing rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

These are also the countries most vulnerable to the systemic nature of risk as revealed by the spread of COVID-19, which is disrupting almost every aspect of life in the countries where it has taken hold.

This international public health emergency poses a monstrous challenge to countries with weak public health services that are already plagued by overlapping risk drivers such as poverty, desertification, rapid unplanned urbanization, population growth in hazard-prone areas and the growing impact of extreme weather as the climate emergency intensifies. One encouraging sign that the Sendai Conference will have made a lasting impact is that 81 countries are now reporting progress on putting in place national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction aligned with the Sendai Framework to meet its 2020 deadline.

The Sendai Framework broke new ground for disaster risk reduction when it extended the definition of disaster risk to include both natural and man-made hazards and related technological, environmental and biological risks. At the time of the agreement’s adoption, the World Health Organization welcomed the fact that it put health at the center of disaster risk management and recognized that the health status of vulnerable populations is a critical part of disaster risk management.

The “decade of action” starting this year will reveal how successful or not the Sendai Framework has been in reducing disaster losses, particularly loss of life and the numbers of people affected by disasters.

Mami Mizutori is the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction and head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction www.undrr.org

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