A false sense of security? What Sendai 2015 needs to achieve

March 13th, 2015

Sendai in Japan today welcomes the international community to negotiate a successor agreement to the Hyogo Framework of Action which ten years ago created a global agreement over the governance of disaster risk reduction (DRR).

Sendai is well placed to know the importance of preparing for disaster. Four years ago it witnessed the triple whammy of an earthquake that triggered a tsunami that led to a technological disaster.

Hopefully the successor agreement will reinforce the growing emphasis on risk reduction and provide a wakeup call of the likelihood that a future disaster will exceed the resources of many states to adequately respond, thus requiring coordinated global action.

A lot has changed since 2005 when many governments lacked even the basics of a suitable policy and lacked national agencies responsible for disaster risk management. Now many governments have delivered on national level implementation, but sadly delivery at the bottom of the poverty ladder where disasters hit hardest hasn’t caught up.

However, as we learned from Hurricane Katrine, even in the developed world no person can be 100% safe from a disaster, so having adequate measures in place to respond when disaster strike will always be needed. Yet, when risk prevention is far more cost effective than spending on relief and recovery, why are we not doing more of it?

Local people participating in bio dykes construction

Local people participating in bio dykes construction

The human and socioeconomic costs of natural disasters are growing at an accelerating rate. This is because natural hazards are intensifying and becoming less predictable. Worse still, as urban growth drives economic development, more people and assets are located in areas that climate change is making increasingly vulnerable. Now is the time to act in a concerted way and not to argue over the details of an agreement.

Yet as I write, there are still arguments over the following contentious issues:

• how much financial support wealthy nations should give vulnerable states
• how to develop targets that measure progress
• what role non state actors should play in rolling out the plan

What we need from Sendai 2015

Now is the time for governments to respond to demands from around the world for a practical framework. Sendai must deliver a new agreement. And the agreement must stop the creation of risk via development. This only transfers the problem to future generations to deal with. What we need now is an agreement, forged around a new consensus by all actors. This agreement must create a precedent for development driven by investment that prioritises long term DRR and not more of the same with an inherent false sense of security.

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