New Goals for Reducing Disaster Risks

Photo By: AmeriCares

A focus on health, a larger role for women and a look forward to the Sustainable Development Goals

AmeriCares gathered with 40,000 people in Sendai, Japan, last month for the United Nations’ Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). The goal of this high-level international meeting and public forum was to agree on a framework to significantly decrease death and destruction from earthquakes, extreme weather, and man-made and other hazards by 2030.

The 6,000 conference delegates included 25 heads of state, representatives from 187 U.N. member states, and more than 500 private sector, non-governmental and grassroots organizations. Three AmeriCares staff participated as accredited delegates of the Non-Governmental Organization Major Group and the Women’s Major Group, which worked to ensure the DRR framework would advance gender equality and human rights and include diverse perspectives.

The context for the conference was unusually relevant. Located in northeastern Japan, Sendai was devastated four years ago by an earthquake and tsunami that killed 20,000 people and displaced 300,000. The area’s recovery, aided in part by AmeriCares' 187 programs to improve the health and well-being of an estimated 90,000 survivors, provided an impressive backdrop to the proceedings.

After days of discussions and a final 36-hour negotiating session, the Member States adopted a new voluntary agreement, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (SFDRR), which replaces the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action.

The SFDRR lays out seven goals to reduce risks for loss of life, livelihoods and critical infrastructure through enhanced national planning and international cooperation.

AmeriCares will be making a commitment to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and invites partners to join us. The final document is available on the conference website.

Key Themes for Community-Based Work and Humanitarian Health

Link to Sustainable Development: The SFDRR holds special importance for developing countries, where 98% of people affected by disasters live. Disasters diminish gross domestic product, contribute to national debt and erode hard-won progress on nutrition, education, poverty reduction and other human development gains. While distinct from the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which will be adopted this September, the SFDRR sets the agenda for achieving SDG targets that specifically reference disaster risk and losses.

Emphasis on Health: The SFDRR describes health system strengthening as central to disaster risk reduction. In contrast to the Hyogo framework, which mentioned health just three times, the SFDRR references health 31 times. It calls for increasing the resilience of national health systems, improving the response capacity of health workers, and expanding access to basic health services, including psychosocial support, mental health services and maternal, newborn and child health. AmeriCares DRR work is guided by a public health-inclusive approach that identifies and addresses these critical health needs. AmeriCares Disaster Preparedness Program Manager, Sarah Henly-Shepard, MPH, Ph.D., presented this approach on the conference’s Ignite Stage.

Proactive Inclusion of Women and Marginalized Groups: Disasters have greater negative impacts on women and girls, as demonstrated by their disproportionate mortality rates. While women and people with disabilities are often relegated to the role of victim, at Sendai we joined grassroots organizers and high-level policy makers alike in advocating for a paradigm shift. The SFDRR calls on governments and others to recognize not just the vulnerability of these groups, but also their capacities for proactive management of risk and promotion of sustainable development. It asks us to increase women’s leadership in DRR, encourage the active participation of young people, and include the critical perspectives of people with disabilities, the elderly, indigenous peoples and migrants.

Local Focus: New emphasis has been placed on the role of municipal governments and community engagement in DRR. Communities, after all, are the true first responders. The consensus frames local governments and communities as decision makers in designing, resourcing and implementing policies, plans and programs to mitigate risk. AmeriCares can attest to the transformative power of community-based DRR approaches, which we currently are implementing in El Salvador, Myanmar, and the Philippines.

Private-Sector Business Capacities: SFDRR compels the private sector to leverage its core business competencies in innovative ways to reduce risk. This is a notable change from the predecessor Hyogo framework, which did not reference interactions between business investment and risk generation or mitigation. The 95 companies involved in the consultative process identified opportunities for private sector participation including risk-sensitive business investments around water and green, low-carbon cities; deepening and developing insurance markets; contributing to technology transfer; and building business continuity capacities for micro, small and medium-enterprises that provide for the vast majority of livelihoods.

AmeriCares sees additional opportunities for corporations, as well as private philanthropy, to set a forward-leaning example by also incorporating DRR into their corporate responsibility and foundation initiatives. They could do this by making it standard practice to allocate a portion of funds currently reserved for emergency response to preparedness and risk reduction programs.

Measurement and Evaluation: Progress on the framework’s seven targets will be evaluated through the open exchange and dissemination of data that has been disaggregated to identify populations by sex, age, and disability.

Next Steps

AmeriCares is enthusiastic about the Sendai consensus and the new opportunities it creates to work across sectors to achieve meaningful progress on risk reduction. Through thoughtful partnership, evidence-based and inclusive interventions, we can save lives and advance sustainable development.

Blog by Ella Gudwin, senior vice president of strategy and program development at the emergency response and global health organization AmeriCares. Learn more about AmeriCares disaster preparedness work.