Avoiding disaster in a dangerous world. Global issues

For the people of Malawi, Cyclone Freddie was an unmitigated disaster. In March this year, the storm tore through the African country twice during its record-breaking month-long rampage across southern Africa.

The unprecedented duration of the extreme weather event would be difficult for any country to overcome, but for Malawi, one of the world’s most vulnerable developing countries, it was devastating. Hundreds of people died, more than half a million people were displaced, and thousands of hectares of crops were destroyed.

As of early April, hundreds of people remained missing and an estimated 1.1 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance. The powerful storm hit during Malawi’s worst cholera outbreak in two decades, adding to the pressure on an already strained health system.

That same month, a group of independent UN rights experts called for more humanitarian aid, but also for Malawi to “develop durable solutions to prevent, minimize and address disaster displacement through climate adaptation measures, preparedness and disaster risk reduction”.

A woman has been tested for COVID-19 in Shenzhen, China.

© Unsplash/Shengpengpeng Cai

A woman has been tested for COVID-19 in Shenzhen, China.

More severe, costly and deadly disasters

Freddie’s impact is just one example of a growing number of complex and costly disasters affecting increasing numbers of people, prompting 187 countries to sign an international agreement on disaster risk reduction in 2015.

The Sendai Framework, named after the Japanese city where it was adopted, is an international UN agreement designed to reduce losses from disasters. It aims to achieve significantly fewer deaths from disasters, reduce disaster damage to infrastructure and improve early warning systems, all by 2030.

However, eight years later, little progress has been made. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), the number of people affected by disasters has increased by 80 percent since 2015. Furthermore, UNDRR finds that many lessons from past disasters seem to have been ignored.

An eight-year-old girl stands near a flood-ravaged school in Quetta, Pakistan.

© UNICEF/Muhammad Sohail

An eight-year-old girl stands near a flood-ravaged school in Quetta, Pakistan.

Half time report

A high-level meeting at UN headquarters in New York on May 18-19 will outline the many challenges that have stalled progress and chart a path to a safer world.

Delegates to the event will discuss the mid-term review report on the implementation of the Framework, which reveals the scale of the problem. Released in April to mark the gap between the launch of the Framework and the 2030 deadline, it does not make comfortable reading.

The report highlights the increasing impact of climate change since 2015 and the severely uneven consequences, which are far more severe in developing countries; For example, the 2022 floods in Pakistan affected more than 33 million people and damaged millions of acres of agricultural land, causing widespread food insecurity.

The increasing interconnectedness of the world’s societies, environments and technologies means that disasters can spread extremely quickly. The report points to the COVID-19 pandemic, which began as a local outbreak in China in 2019 before spreading rapidly around the world, leading to an estimated 6.5 million deaths by the end of 2022, as a prime example.

“You don’t have to look hard to find examples of how disasters are getting worse,” said Mami Mizutori, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Prevention Organization. “The sad fact is that many of these disasters are preventable because they are caused by human decisions. The mid-term review’s call to action is that countries must reduce risk in every decision, action and investment they make.

Leading countries

It is clear that not enough has been done. disaster costs continue to rise, but funding for disaster risk reduction is not growing at the pace needed to overcome them.

However, as the report shows, there are many examples of countries developing programs at the national level to protect their citizens from disaster risk.

To date, 125 countries have implemented disaster preparedness plans. These range from Costa Rican legislation allowing all institutions to set aside budgets for prevention and emergency response, the Australian Disaster Preparedness Fund, which will invest up to A$200 million annually in disaster prevention and resilience initiatives from 2023-2024, and the Barbados disaster : provisions that allow immediate debt freezes in the event of economic impact from a disaster.

And while the number of people affected by disasters continues to rise, the proportion of people killed has more than halved. The death rate due to disasters in the decade 2005-2014 was 1.77 per 100,000 world population, and it dropped to 0.84 in the decade 2012-2021 (excluding the impact of COVID-19).

The recommendations presented in the mid-term report and the measures taken at the national level will form the basis for discussions at the High Level Meeting; they contain proof that a safer world is within reach by 2030 if needed. investments are made in the direction of risk reduction.

Disaster Risk Reduction in the United Nations

  • The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) helps decision makers around the world better understand and change their attitudes towards risk.

  • UNDRR’s authoritative expertise and presence in five regional offices is used to build and develop relationships with national and local governments, intergovernmental organizations, civil society and the private sector.

  • The office collects, collates and shares the latest high-quality technical information and data on reducing risk and building resilience more effectively. Hundreds of experts work in UNDRR’s science and technology advisory groups, which are critical partners to governments and other stakeholders around the world.

  • Developing and implementing comprehensive and affordable multi-hazard early warning systems is an important part of their work. Such systems save lives. on average, when a disaster strikes, the death rate in countries without them is eight times higher than in countries that do.

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