UN warns governments that disaster risks are ‘out of control’ as lessons are ignored

By on 16/04/2023 | Updated on 16/04/2023
A picture of the wreckage in the city of Kahramanmaraş after 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey.
A picture of the wreckage in the city of Kahramanmaraş after 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey. Public domain photo: Əziz Kərimov - Voice of America

The United Nations has urged governments around the world to learn lessons on how to respond to disasters as it warned action to better protect people from major catastrophes had stalled.

In a report released last week, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said increasing numbers of people were being affected by larger, ever more complex and more expensive disasters – both natural and due to human activity – because government decision makers are failing to tackle dangerous risks.

The agency published a review of how governments are implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. This 2015 global agreement is intended to “prevent new – and reduce existing – disaster risk” by getting governments to take action to understand the risk of disasters, and to be ready to respond.

However the midterm review of the Sendai framework, mandated by the UN General Assembly, found lessons from past disasters seem to have been ignored, and progress on meeting the seven targets in the framework has stalled or, in some cases, reversed.

Among the reversals highlighted in the report is an 80% increase in the number of people affected by disasters since 2015 to stand at more than 150 million – despite a pledge in the Sendai framework for governments to put in place measures that can help “substantially reduce the number of disaster-affected people globally”. The economic cost of disasters is also increasing.

“One doesn’t have to look hard to find examples of how disasters are becoming worse,” said Mami Mizutori, the UN secretary general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction and head of UNDRR. “The sad fact is that many of these disasters are preventable because they are caused by human decisions. The call to action of the Midterm Review is that countries need to reduce risk in every decision, action, and investment they make.”

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Measuring progress on tackling disasters

The seven targets that was adopted in 2015 by 187 countries to reduce disaster losses by the year 2030. These range from proposals to substantially reduce global disaster mortality and the number of people affected by disasters to actions focused on what actions governments can take to improve resilience.

These include developing national and local disaster risk reduction strategies, and increasing international cooperation for disaster risk reduction, and the midterm review found that since the Sendai Framework was adopted in 2015, the number of countries with national disaster risk reduction strategies has risen from 55 to 125 in March 2022.

However, investments in disaster risk reduction continue to remain low. Only 42 developing countries reported receiving official development assistance support for national disaster risk reduction.

This lack of progress is also reflected in some of the other targets. Although the average annual number of deaths and missing persons in the event of a disaster per 100,000 has decreased from 1.77 in the decade 2005-2014 to 0.82 in the decade 2012-2021, more people are being affected – up from 1,147 in the decade 2005-2014 to 2,066 in the period 2012-2021. The average annual number of disaster affected people during the period 2015-2021 was 150,214,597 people per year.

The impact on economic infrastructure is also rising. Between 2015 and 2021, disasters damaged or destroyed an average 142,852 critical infrastructure units and facilities each year. In 2020 and 2021, disasters including COVID-19 disrupted the provision of over 363,184 basic services in 44 reporting countries.

The UNDRR warned that many of these disasters are climate-related, and countries will face even worse disasters if global temperatures continue to rise, meaning that governments will need to better understand the risk they face.

However, the report also offers examples that countries can learn from. These include an initiative in Costa Rica that allows all institutions to allocate budgets for prevention and emergency response, Australia’s development of a so-called Disaster Ready Fund to invest up to A$200m ($167m) annually in disaster prevention and resilience, and Barbados’ disaster clauses that allow for an immediate moratorium on government debt payments in the event of disasters. Further details can be found in the report: The Report of the Midterm Review of the Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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