As Cyclone Pam strikes, the world looks to Sendai for a better approach to disaster risk

This entry was written by Ben Murphy, Humanitarian Advocacy Officer, Oxfam Australia, and Scott T. Paul, Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor, Oxfam America, on 13 March 2015.

Just as Tropical Cyclone Pam tears a path through the Pacific with winds of up to 160mph (260kph) per hour, a team of Oxfam staff and partners are gathering in Sendai, Japan, to call on governments, communities, civil society groups and private businesses to chart a bold new course to reduce the risk of disasters over the next fifteen years.

The Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, or DRR, is the biggest global event to take place in more than a decade, aimed at reducing the devastating impacts of disasters. Over the last 30 years, not only has the number of weather-related disasters tripled, those natural hazard events have also affected more people and resulted in more economic losses, mostly in low to middle-income countries. Small island developing states, like those affected by Cyclone Pam, are expected to lose on average 20 times more than their total capital each year as a result of disasters.

Back in 2005, the international community agreed on a 10 year plan to make the world safer from natural hazards, called the Hyogo Framework for Action on DRR (commonly known as the HFA). Ten years on, the HFA has resulted in concrete progress in a number of areas, though significant gaps remain.

The HFA helped to raise the international profile and prominence of disaster risk reduction, and has led to the creation of national DRR laws and institutions. However, those laws and institutions haven’t always translated into the desired impact at the local level. Local governments and civil society groups, usually the first to respond once disaster strikes, still too often lack adequate resources, authority, and capacity to lead strong and effective DRR efforts at the frontline.

Fisher farmer Joel Villamor stands outside his house in Tacloban, Philippines. Photo: Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam, 12 February 2014

Meanwhile, disaster risk continues to increase, which best evidence suggests is partly a result of climate change.

That’s why a strong agreement in Sendai is so critical. Governments must achieve a new, post-2015 Framework on disaster risk reduction that builds on the successes of the HFA while also addressing its gaps. This is a rare opportunity to go beyond the gradual, incremental progress seen to date and to bring about a step change in efforts to reduce risk for vulnerable and marginalised people all over the world.

The new framework must set ambitious global targets to reduce disaster risk for vulnerable people in order to create real global accountability for DRR efforts. It must prioritize the world’s most marginalised and vulnerable groups, including women, the elderly and people with disabilities, who, due to discrimination, lack equal access to information and economic insecurity, are disproportionately impacted by disasters and have less of a say in DRR decision-making. And, critically, the new framework must address the HFA’s implementation gap at the local level. A framework that doesn’t promote funding, technical capacity and real decision making power for local authorities and civil society is unlikely to make any meaningful change where it’s most desperately needed.

While Oxfam’s teams in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands prepare to respond to the impact of Cyclone Pam on some of the world’s poorest communities, our team in Sendai will be fighting to ensure that poor communities all over the world are at the center of future efforts to cope with natural hazards. It’s critical that we get this right.

People in Vanuatu prepare for the worst. Photo: Ben Bohane, 13 March 2015

Top and bottom photos: People in Vanuatu prepare for the worst. Credit: Ben Bohane, 13 March 2015

Middle photo: Fisher farmer Joel Villamor stands outside his house in Tacloban, Philippines. Credit: Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam, 12 February 2014

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