Good, but needs to go further – our verdict on this week’s disaster risk reduction conference

Ben Murphy writes from the Global Platform, the disaster risk reduction summit and argues that urgent action is needed to transform the losing battle against risk.

Disaster risk is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today. Hazards such as droughts, floods and cyclones are increasing in frequency and severity, compounded by the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. Exposure and vulnerability has grown due to higher concentrations of people and economic activity located in areas prone to natural hazards. The economic impacts of disasters have also increased, more than tripling in some countries over the last 20 years.

Disaster risk is an issue neither low- nor high-income nations can afford to ignore. From increasingly frequent drought in the Sahel, to 2011’s Great East Japan Earthquake and 2012’s Hurricane Sandy we have seen that disaster risk is an issue neither low- nor high-income nations can afford to ignore. While great progress has been made in disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts across the globe, an enhanced global push to strengthen risk reduction awareness, institutions and practice is urgently needed to transform the losing battle against
increasing risk.

This week, Oxfam staff and partners joined thousands of representatives from governments, civil society groups, NGOs, local community groups and the private sector in Geneva for the world’s foremost gathering on DRR, the biennial Global Platform for DRR

Global PlatformProgress on a new 10-15 year plan of action on DRR from 2015 onwards has been top of the agenda – and not a moment too soon, given that the current Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) on DRR concludes in two years. 

The HFA has achieved much in giving greater momentum to DRR worldwide, but it is not without its weaknesses.

A strengthened and more comprehensive HFA2 needs to build on the successes of the HFA, while addressing its limitations and the creativity needed to respond to growing risk and losses, economic impact and environmental damage.

This afternoon, the Chair of the Global Platform presented his draft summary, the key outcome document setting out priorities and way forward on HFA2. It has a strong emphasis on accountability and the importance of local and community involvement and empowerment. It recognizes the weaknesses of the current HFA in addressing the root causes of risk, and calls for an immediate start to work on measurable targets and indicators based on progress in reducing risk and vulnerability. This progress is welcome and
represents a significant step towards a strengthened HFA2.

“Risk is increasing at a rate that no single sector can address.”
Aris Papadopoulos
Yet more needs to be done to ensure that HFA2 provides the direction and innovation necessary to meet the increasing risks and challenges of the coming years and decades. As Aris Papadopoulos from the Private Sector Advisory Group on DRR concluded today, risk is increasing at a rate that no single sector can address.

Meeting this increasing gap therefore requires a fundamental shift that puts the local focus and local action at the heart and centre of HFA2. Not only have bottom up DRR strategies proven to be the most effective, they provide a strong foundation of community resilience, leading to more resilient nations and enhancing and linking risk reduction efforts at all levels. 
We need a clear commitment in HFA2 to the needs and capacities of the most vulnerable and hazard prone. There should also be a stronger emphasis on the contribution of non-government actors, in particular the role of civil society in the development of HFA2, and the importance of linking communities with each other and with governments. 

The significant momentum established today towards the development of targets and indicators, should be further bolstered by commitments to the development of national databases on damage and losses to measure progress. 

Two years might sound like a long time, but in the world of international agreements it can pass very quickly. The progress achieved this week is undoubtedly significant, but a greater focus on building community resilience will help bring together and amplify our collective efforts at local, national and global levels, If a truly effective and strengthened HFA2 is to be achieved by 2015, we need a comprehensive and ambitious path forward that charts a role in DRR for all those with a stake in a more resilient world.

Author: Ben Murphy
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.