I am sure we all hope for a 2021 that sees us overcome the challenges and tragedy of COVID-19 and move forward into a positive ‘new normal’. But that won’t be possible until vaccines have been made available equitably across the world. We are not safe until we are all safe.
A human rights-based approach to disaster risk reduction lies at the heart of the Sendai Framework, and for this reason, UNDRR advocates strongly for equity in vaccine distribution. The inclusion of biological hazards in the Sendai Framework came as a direct result of the experience of Member States combatting more localized outbreaks of disease.
The world is now faced with a much greater challenge which requires a universally agreed approach to disaster risk governance when it comes to tackling the pandemic.
It would be a great mistake to think that there is light at the end of the tunnel just because of the innovative work that has been done in producing several COVID-19 vaccines in record time. As discussed at the International Recovery Platform event which attracted 340 participants from 49 countries, the vulnerable are suffering the most. Solidarity needs to improve if we are to respond adequately to the compound nature of the impacts flowing from the pandemic. This applies particularly to making the vaccine available in low and middle-income countries. The current funding shortfall is US$27 billion which pales by comparison with the trillions more that could be lost if we do not get the pandemic under control in all countries in reasonable time.
If you have been following my Twitter feed you will have seen that I have been highlighting the need for equity in vaccine distribution and drawing attention to the funding gap for the ACT Accelerator i.e. the WHO mechanism to speed up Access to COVID-19 Tools, including vaccines.
The pandemic underlines the importance of Sendai Framework Target (f), which will be the focus of this year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on October 13. Target (f) calls for enhanced “international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support.” I’m sure no one doubts the wisdom of this target in the current moment!
US BOOST FOR PARIS AGREEMENT
AND DISASTER RISK REDUCTION
It is a cause of great encouragement to the rest of the world that the United States has re-joined the Paris Agreement. It gives me hope that if other members of the G20 raise the level of their ambition to at least match, if not surpass that of the US when those reductions are announced in coming weeks that we may at last have achieved a tipping point in global commitment.
It is also very encouraging to read the news emanating from FEMA — the US Federal Emergency Management Agency — that the Biden administration is contemplating what could prove to be one of the largest-ever domestic investments in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation by a single country. President Biden often talks about building back better, a phrase which is used widely throughout the Sendai Framework.
This makes sense against a backdrop of some $2 trillion dollars in economic losses caused by extreme weather events in the US over the last forty years, a period during which the world at large has seen extreme weather events almost double. Losses on such a scale are not sustainable or acceptable. This is especially so when US federal researchers have found that $6 are saved in disaster losses for every dollar invested in prevention.
EARLY WARNING, EARLY ACTION
At the Climate Adaptation Summit hosted by the Netherlands, much of the emphasis was on those countries who do not make a significant contribution to emissions but suffer the worst consequences of global warming and often lack the means to reduce the risks they face because of extreme weather.
It is astonishing to learn that only 40% of World Meteorological Organization (WMO) members report having adequate early warning systems in place.
I listened attentively to the discussion of the anchoring event on disaster risk management and later commented on the importance of early warning followed by early action reaching the last mile with a multi-hazard approach as a key area of attention for climate financing routed through CREWS and REAP. However, it is still the case that developed countries are a long way from delivering on their climate finance commitments to developing countries.
UNDRR’s ‘Media Saving Lives’ project, which was rolled out in the Caribbean in late 2020 is working with the World Broadcasting Union (representing more than 200 public broadcasting service unions) to deliver journalism training, resources and co-production opportunities to strengthen the media’s role in early warning and early action scenarios.
G7 CRISIS WAKE-UP CALL
Dear G7 Leaders,
The world was not ready for covid-19. But we could have been. We could have been prepared for the many climate-related disasters, famines, conflicts and global health threats of the past decade. Instead, we paid for these disasters with lives, not money.
That’s why we, a group of organisations and individuals working to stop risks turning into disasters, are coming together in 2021 to ask G7 leaders for a new global agreement to better predict, prepare and protect the world’s most vulnerable people from the big risks we face…
These are the opening paragraphs of Crisis Lookout letter I have signed along with 26 other UN agency chiefs and heads of leading organizations. As the UK takes over the presidency of the G7 and COP 26, we are calling on G7 leaders to agree to:
PREDICT CRISES BETTER by creating a new “Crisis Lookout”, to improve risk information and the prioritisation of crises globally, regionally and nationally.
PREPARE RESPONSE BETTER by agreeing a new plan to make pre-arranged finance the primary way that crises are paid for, so that funding gets where it is needed faster and with greater impact.
PROTECT PEOPLE BETTER by operationalising this approach now with support for an initial group of ‘pathfinder’ countries to explore better risk information and financing options, so they are ready when the next crisis hits.
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION AND PREVENTION
The first opportunity that I have had to mention that increasing international cooperation for developing countries would be the focus of this year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction was my speaking engagement with the Working Party on Humanitarian Aid and Food Aid under the auspices of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of Europe.
My message was straightforward. One of the hard lessons we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that without strengthened international cooperation we cannot reduce the risk of global crises before they strike us, now or in the future.
We know that humanitarian aid plays a vital role in saving lives in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and the demands for it are now at a record high, a level which has become almost impossible to meet.
Therefore, we need to enhance forward-looking investment in prevention and in addressing the drivers of disaster risk to make a significant impact in reducing overall disaster losses as well as reducing demand for humanitarian assistance.
Whether it is a crisis in food production or the spread of a zoonotic disease, it is not enough to reduce the risk of future events inside a country’s border or even in a region- we must take a global, interconnected perspective of risk.
It is also vital that humanitarian aid itself is implemented with an eye to prevention. Measures to alleviate present difficulties should be undertaken with a view to preventing future recurrences, and they have to be anticipatory. The Guide to Scaling up Disaster Risk Reduction in Humanitarian Action is a good starting point for investing in ways that make DRR more integral to humanitarian planning and programming at the country level.
LEARNING AND GUIDANCE
I would like to thank all of those who provided us with feedback on the public review version of our new Words into Action guide Nature-Based Solutions for Disaster Risk Reduction.
It aims to give practical, how-to-do information on setting up and implementing nature-based solutions for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in support of implementation of the Sendai Framework. This new publication is intended to complement IUCN’s Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions.
It is broken down into three chapters including an introduction and overview of the current state of play; tools and resources; and, finally, how to mainstream and upscale Nature-based Solutions to deal with disasters and climate risks. There is valuable advice on policy coherence and how to engage communities, including women and youth, and the private sector.
This is a combined effort of the international DRR Community brokered by UNDRR and will be launched officially in the coming months. As a first attempt, the launch of this Words into Action will be accompanied by a podcast with experts in this field discussing on the multiple benefits of Nature- based Solutions for disaster risk reduction.
If you would like more information about UNDRR’s many activities, please do visit www.undrr.org and please — stay safe and well.
UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction