Disaster risk reduction has always been seen as the poor cousin of humanitarian aid and development work because it offers relatively little for politicians to boast about. "Major crisis averted!" was never going to grab the headlines and win votes. So governments have been less keen to invest in it.
But what if the results of managing risk could be demonstrated with concrete numbers, such as fewer people killed and pushed into poverty by disasters or a drop in the economic losses they cause? This is a key focus of work on a new global framework for disaster risk reduction, due to be approved at a world conference in Japan next March.
Opening a preparatory meeting for that conference in Geneva this week, Margareta Wahlström, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for disaster risk reduction, said significant progress had been made, particularly in cutting the loss of lives. But disaster risk is rising and economic, social, environmental and cultural losses are increasing, she noted.
Japanese ambassador Kenichi Suganuma, who is in charge of the world conference, told the Geneva gathering that indicators for measuring disaster risk reduction (DRR) should be "simple, internationally accepted and cover multiple hazards”. One new target in Japan, for example, is for 90 percent of homes to meet earthquake resistance standards by 2020.
Harjeet Singh, international coordinator for DRR and climate adaptation with the charity ActionAid, said the current DRR agreement - known as the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) - had succeeded in bringing about change at the policy level, with governments putting in place disaster legislation, disaster management agencies and early warning systems, among other things.
But the HFA does not include numerical targets or indicators for DRR, and Singh said not enough detail has filtered down to the ground.
The kind of thing that's needed is making sure people have shelters to go to, food and water supplies in an emergency, and can protect their livestock, he said. "If communities are not resilient, then the plan isn't working," Singh told Thomson Reuters Foundation from Geneva.
Goals and indicators are needed in the next framework (HFA2) to measure whether this is happening, Singh argued. Governments should be able to say how many people can access early warning information and be safely evacuated, for example. "Now we are looking at the concrete impacts (of DRR) on the ground, and talking more about the outcomes and outputs than the inputs," he said.
GUIDING LOCAL DECISIONS
This view was echoed by others among the more than 600 government representatives and experts at the Geneva meeting, according to the website of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
Galina Angarova, speaking for the "Indigenous Peoples Major Group" representing over 370 million people, called for the HFA2 to include well-formulated targets that would “translate into provision of financial and material support in preparing for disasters such as hauling materials, stocks of food, camp beds, medicine, gas or emergency power generators.”
It was proposed that by the end of the HFA2 period - likely to last between 10 and 20 years - the number of children and youths who lack access to quality services for health, education, water supply and sanitation, protection and security will have been reduced by 75 percent.
Ecuador’s minister of the national secretariat of risk management, María del Pilar Cornejo, said indicators "should help us prioritise where our efforts go locally to strengthen prevention and mitigation of disaster risk, and to increase resilience". "If we have confidence in the information we have at the local level, our decision making to address the threats of hazards at that level will be better,” she added.
Discussions have also tackled how to bring coherence between targets and indicators set under a new global DRR agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will be agreed on at the United Nations later next year.
Disaster risk reduction is currently included in nearly half the 17 potential SDGs on the table now, noted Jan Kellett, disaster and climate partnerships advisor at the U.N. Development Programme, who was also at the Geneva gathering.
The DRR community should be aiming to measure the outcomes of its work on mortality, economic losses and poverty reduction, and trying to get such indicators included in the SDGs too, he told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We need to make sure development is risk-proofed," he added.
At the Geneva meeting, Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer of Risk Management Solutions, called on governments and the private sector to identify and act on systemic factors that drive risk, "like the tens of millions of dangerous concrete buildings constructed without engineers". Risk information should be delivered using the latest smartphone technology, and progress measured with global standards for risk auditing, he added.
Andrew Maskrey, head of UNISDR’s risk knowledge section, said an improved system of indicators for HFA2 would aim to measure not only how much existing risk is being reduced, but also how much new risk is being prevented and how much resilience is being strengthened. They would relate to a particular public policy, making it clear who was responsible, for example the ministry of environment or housing.
Earlier this year, a group of 30 international experts proposed a disaster target and indicators for the SDGs, to "reduce the impact of disasters on poverty eradication and economic growth, including the impact on poor men and women". They should be consistent with those developed for the new DRR agreement, and could be delivered through monitoring under that agreement, they said.
"Development cannot be sustainable without ensuring its economic, social and environmental aspects are protected from disasters," a summary of their discussions said.
The next 18 months - when the HFA2, the SDGs and a new global deal to tackle climate change are all due to be sealed - will reveal whether that message has finally got through to politicians around the world
(Editing by Tim Pearce: firstname.lastname@example.org)
This blog draws on UNISDR reports on proceedings at the Geneva preparatory meeting: http://www.unisdr.org