Politics of Poverty

As Cyclone Pam strikes, the world looks for a better approach to disasters

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Source: http://bit.ly/1wEKoVW

Reducing the devastating impacts of disasters means getting resources to the local level.

Ben Murphy is the Humanitarian Advocacy Officer at Oxfam Australia.

While Oxfam’s teams in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands prepare to respond to the impact of the Category 5 Cyclone Pam on some of the world’s poorest communities, other Oxfam staffers and partners are gathering in Sendai, Japan, to chart a bold new course to reduce the risk of disasters over the next 15 years.

The 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, or DRR, is the biggest global event in more than a decade aimed at reducing the devastating impacts of disasters.  Over the last 30 years, not only has the number of weather-related disasters tripled, which best evidence suggests is partly a result of climate change.

Those natural hazard events have also affected more people and resulted in more economic losses, mostly in low to middle-income countries. Small island developing states, like those affected by Cyclone Pam, are expected to lose on average 20 times more than their total capital stock each year as a result of disasters.

Back in 2005, the international community agreed on a 10-year plan to make the world safer from natural hazards called the Hyogo Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction. Ten years on, the Hyogo Framework has resulted in concrete progress in a number of areas, though significant gaps remain.

The Hyogo Framework helped to raise the international profile and prominence of DRR, and has led to the creation of national-level DRR laws and institutions in many countries. However, those laws and institutions haven’t always translated into the desired impact at the local level. Local governments and civil society groups—usually the first to respond once disaster strikes—still too often lack adequate resources, authority, and capacity to lead strong and effective DRR efforts at the frontline.

Meanwhile, that’s why a strong agreement at the conference in Sendai, starting tomorrow, is so critical. Governments must achieve a new, post-2015 Framework on DRR that builds on the successes of the Hyogo Framework, while also addressing its gaps. This is a rare opportunity to go beyond the gradual, incremental progress seen to date and to bring about real change in efforts to reduce risk for people all over the world.

The new framework must set ambitious global targets to create real global accountability for DRR efforts. It must prioritize the world’s most marginalised and vulnerable groups, including women, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Due to discrimination, these groups lack equal access to information and economic insecurity, are disproportionately impacted by disasters, and have less of a say in DRR decision-making.

Critically, the new framework must also address the Hyogo Framework’s implementation gap at the local level. A framework that doesn’t promote funding, technical capacity, and real decision-making power for local authorities and civil society is unlikely to make any meaningful change where it’s most desperately needed.

Oxfam’s team in Sendai will be fighting to ensure that poor communities all over the world are at the centre of future efforts to cope with natural hazards. Just as Tropical Cyclone Pam tears a path through the Pacific with winds of up to 280km per hour (170 mph), it’s critical that we get this right.

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