Disaster risk out of control despite global agreement to stop them

Hurricane in the Caribbean, palm tree on a beach
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GENEVA, Switzerland, 5 April 2023 - Increasing numbers of people are being affected by larger, ever more complex and more expensive disasters because decision makers are failing to put people first and prevent risks from becoming disasters. This is the conclusion of a multi-country review initiated by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). 

The review, mandated by the UN General Assembly, looked at how countries are implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which is an international agreement with seven targets that was adopted in 2015 by 187 countries to reduce disaster losses by the year 2030. 

Eight years into its implementation, many of the past disaster lessons seem to have been ignored as a Report on the Findings and Recommendations of the Midterm Review of the Sendai Framework found that “progress has stalled and, in some cases, reversed.”

Among the troubling reversals is that there has been an 80% increase in the number of people affected by disasters since 2015. Moreover, the costs of disasters remain high, with an average above US$ 330 billion per year between 2015 and 2021, which is estimated to be significantly undervalued.  And at the same time, there has been no commensurate increase in funding for disaster risk reduction.

“One doesn’t have to look hard to find examples of how disasters are becoming worse. 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,” said Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of UNDRR.

Please download The Report of the Midterm Review of the Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 here.

Many of these disasters are climate-related, and in light of the latest warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, countries are likely to face even worse disasters if global temperatures continue to rise. The impacts of which are brutally unequal, with developing countries hit the hardest. 

The report points to the rapid accumulation of risk that is building up, intersecting with the risks of breaching planetary boundaries, biodiversity and ecosystem limits – which is spiralling out of control. The world’s societies, technologies, and environments have become hyperconnected, so that disasters can spread quickly. The COVID-19 pandemic began as a local outbreak in 2019, but spread around the world to kill 6.5 million people by the end of 2022 and damage the global economy. Flooding in Pakistan last year affected more than 33 million people and damaged 4.4 million acres of agricultural land, severely impacting food security and increasing pressure on global agricultural markets. 

But the report does point to areas of progress, including on data quality and analysis, and how countries are organizing themselves to adopt a prevention-oriented approach through national disaster risk reduction strategies. These have a key objective of ensuring strong and inclusive governance systems to manage disaster risk and their potential to cause a cascade of dangerous effects. To date, 125 countries have reported developing such strategies.

It also offers examples that countries can learn from, such as Costa Rica’s legislation allows for all institutions to allocate budgets for prevention and emergency response, Australia’s Disaster Ready Fund to invest up to A$ 200 million per year from 2023 - 2024 in disaster prevention and resilience initiatives, and Barbados’ disaster clauses that allow for an immediate debt moratorium in the event of an economic impact caused by disaster.

Disaster preparedness has also advanced and is now more effective in saving lives. This is reflected through a decline in disaster related mortality (barring COVID-19 impact) from 1.77 per 100,000 global population in the decade 2005-2014 to 0.84 in the decade 2012-2021. A safer world is achievable. If countries, regulators and the key sectors that our lives depend on invest the resources to understand and reduce risks, disasters can be prevented. 

The challenge now is accelerating progress to meet the scale challenge. The report captures several recommendations, which will be discussed over two days, 18 and 19 May, at a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Download the report

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