To travelers in Japan, Kyoto and Hyogo are 30 minutes apart by bullet train, but their symbolic locations are much closer. These two places have become shorthand for two urgent international discussions. The more famous is the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an agreement that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. The other is the Hyogo Framework for Action, crafted to make the globe more resilient to natural disasters, including those expected to become more severe in a changing climate.
The Hyogo Framework for Action was adopted at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, in January 2005 in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan, by representatives from 168 governments. Its goals were ambitious: to substantially reduce the loss of life and of social, economic and environmental assets resulting from disasters. Over a 10-year period from 2005 to 2015, the framework sought to:
- Make disaster risk a national and local priority, with institutional support
- Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning systems
- Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels
- Reduce underlying risk factors
- Strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels.
The HFA matters because disasters, development and poverty are intimately linked. The definition of disasters that the framework addresses is wide-ranging, and includes worsening droughts, heat waves, wildfires, floods and severe storms – which scientists have linked to anthropogenic climate change – as well as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, landslides and disease epidemics.
Destruction of assets and livelihoods in disasters set back hard-won development gains and worsen poverty, often for extended periods of years. Progress in ending extreme poverty may be reversed in the face of a disaster event and poverty re-entrenched.
There is also the sheer scale of the impact of disasters. A recent World Bank report estimates that from 1980 to 2012, disaster-related losses amounted to US$3.8 billion worldwide. Moreover, between 2000 and 2012, an estimated 1.1 million lives were lost and 2.7 billion people were directly affected by natural hazards, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
The 2005 Kobe conference took place less than a month after a magnitude 9 earthquake centered at the northern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia, unleashed a tsunami on December 25, 2004, killing a quarter of a million people and leaving millions homeless. It was the start of an extraordinarily disastrous decade:
2005: Hurricane Katrina in the United States wreaked havoc in New Orleans
2006: Typhoons, floods and droughts killed nearly 3,200 people in China
2007: Deadly heat wave caused 70,000 deaths across southern Europe
2008: Great Sichuan Earthquake killed 90,000, with over US$200 billion in damage; Cyclone Nargis killed 140,000 in Myanmar
2009: H1N1 flu pandemic killed more than 10,000
2010: Haiti earthquake killed more than 200,000; eruption of Icelandic volcano caused large-scale disruption to air travel
2011: Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant failure killed 20,000 in Japan and caused US$210 billion in damage 2012: Superstorm Sandy caused in excess of US$65 billion in damage on U.S. East Coast
2013: Typhoon Haiyan claimed more than 6,000 lives in the Philippines
2014: A landslide killed as many as 2,500 in a remote community in Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan.
The progress achieved under the HFA and the elements of a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction are being examined ahead of a follow-up conference set for 14-18 March 2015 in Sendai City, Miyagi, Japan. The UN-convened forum is meant to result in a “concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented outcome document”.
Negotiations will begin in earnest at the first preparatory meeting taking place from 14-15 July in Geneva. A preliminary paper from UNISDR issued in June notes progress in all regions across the framework’s Priorities for Action, notably in strengthening legislative and policy frameworks, early warning, risk assessment, research and fostering a common understanding of disaster risk.
Based on the post-2015 consultations to date, it notes that efforts by civil society, science organizations, governments and businesses have contributed to a drop in mortality risk, particularly in the case of floods, droughts and tropical storms.
However, progress on increasing public investment to manage disaster risk and reducing underlying risk factors has been slower. According to the paper, exposure of people and assets in higher- and lower-income countries has increased faster than vulnerability has decreased, thereby generating new risk and rising levels of sovereign risk for many governments:
This vicious cycle, which constitutes a challenge to the safety, security, wellbeing and aspiration of people, communities and countries, can be reversed with a combined approach aimed at preventing future risk creation, reducing existing levels of risk and strengthening social and economic resilience, targeting both the public and private sectors.
So what next? The paper concludes that the ultimate desired outcome of the HFA – to reduce losses caused by disasters – is still valid but that additional goals are needed. It proposes three global targets for the first 10 years under a new agreement:
- Reduce disaster mortality by half by 2025 (or by a given percentage in a given period)
- Reduce disaster economic loss by a given percentage by 2025
- Reduce disaster damage to housing, educational and health facilities by a given percentage by 2025.
Countries would set national targets to be monitored through “families of indicators”. One family would measure the extent to which underlying drivers of risk and resilience are addressed, potentially including indicators on poverty and inequality, poor urban development and climate change. A second family would measure the levels of disaster risk in a country based around investment, debt and fiscal capacity, while a third set would monitor the effectiveness of public policies to strengthen resilience.