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The Sendai Framework: Carving Out a New Direction for Managing Disasters

Posted by Usitha Sivapragasam

09 Oct 2015

Duryog Nivaran members, the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) and Janathakshan with  the partnership of the Government of Sri Lanka (Ministry of Disaster Management) and support of UNISDR and UNDP, organised a two day workshop along with a public forum on “ Implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction: Learning from Global and Regional Experiences;  a Dialogue among Stakeholders”. This blog discusses some insights I gathered from these events.

In the global context, 2015 is an important year as this year marks the completion of 25 years of international agreements on the reduction of natural disasters.  This process started in 1989 with the international decade for natural disaster reduction (IDNDR), and has now moved on to a new phase with the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) by 187 countries at the third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR), which was held in Sendai, Japan 14–18th March 2015. This focus on disaster risk reduction (DRR) also comes at an opportune time given the global dialogues on sustainable development goals and climate change So, the discussions on implementing the SFDRR can be continued in these meetings to persuade the states to subscribe to ideas put forward, and commit themselves not just to the implementation in their own countries but to help the others via funding and other forms of support. These other forms include technology transfer, knowledge sharing and capacity building. As for the Sri Lankan context, with the recent political changes and the focus on good governance, we can expect the evidence and recommendations from Global Assessment Report 2015 (GAR) and the implementation of SFDRR to be taken seriously and political commitment to implement the SFDRR as SFDRR places sustainable development at the centre of addressing disaster risk reduction (DRR).

According to the GAR, in the past 25 years, remarkable achievements have been made in managing disasters, in providing early warning, relief and disaster recovery. However, little progress has been made in managing disaster risk. In other words, new risks are generated faster than the reduction of existing risks. More importantly, in the low and middle income countries economic loss and mortality due to extensive risks are increasing and more than 90% of the total life years lost in disasters was in the low and middle income countries. Hence, the SFDRR suggests a paradigm shift that focuses on Disaster Risk Reduction rather than focusing on Disaster Management, namely trying to minimise the existing risks while avoiding and preventing new ones. To achieve this, the Sendai Framework has set itself seven targets in four priority areas. This paradigm shift is reflected by the umbrella which is turned upside down and the inverted A in the GAR report. In fact, in retrospect it truly feels meaningless and in fact stupid to think disasters are completely exogenous. In fact, many of the disasters that are happening today are the outcomes of wrong investment decisions and bad practices. Perhaps due to non visibility of the direct linkage between bad investments/decisions and their outcomes as disasters and losses, it is difficult to address disaster risk reduction rather than disaster management.

It is pointless to keep investing to lose one’s investment in disasters and then try to manage the consequence without addressing and removing the underlying causes of human induced disasters. The four priority areas of the SFDRR are transforming risk information to risk knowledge to understand disaster risk; strengthening risk governance; investing in disaster risk reduction to improve decision making in investments for resilience, and Building Back Better (BBB) to enhance preparedness, response and recovery capacities, explain how removing the drivers of risk  is  possible. The two day workshop, and CEPA’s Open Forum in Colombo tried to make the various stakeholders understand (if not convince) that disaster risks are endogenous and are embedded in development (decisions) and that disaster risk reduction is possible. This is a good start in setting the way forward.

However, what was missing was directions on how to work on these four priority areas; how to make our governments buy into it.  The governments in the developing countries do not have adequate money to invest in important areas such as poverty alleviation, education and social welfare. In reality, lack of funding, lack of good governance and power dynamics cause the vulnerable people in these countries to suffer disproportionately from natural and man-made disasters. They often reside in hazard prone areas and sometimes willingly undertake risk, even though they are well aware/informed of the risk.

For instance the poor and marginalised people continue to live in flood prone areas as they have few options to move elsewhere. Children and youth willingly work on ship breaking sites in Bangladesh although they are well aware of the risks associated with it; while on a different scale developed nations transfer their e-waste (and thereby transfer the risk) to the developing  countries.  Our own Meeriyabedde landslide disaster, where officials were aware of the landslide risk, and maintained that the people were not willing to move, is another case in point. Several questions/comments raised at the workshop and the Open Forum include: how can the implementation of SFDRR be possible in the developing countries with unfunded mandates, without adequate capacity and knowledge to address disaster risk and how we can regulate/ stop poor people from settling in disaster prone areas while knowing that is the only thing they can afford (and it is not even a choice).

An interesting point was raised by an engineer regarding the adoption of technology used in other countries in order to address some risks such as salt water intrusion that may not be appropriate to the country. Hence while technology transfer is suggested in the SFDRR as a means to improve access to technology, it does not delve into how this can take place in a mutually beneficial way. Along the same lines, although the SFDRR talks about the need for regional collaboration and cooperation for disaster risk reduction, there is no clear indication of how countries will commit to this, or how such cooperation can be ensured. Using cost benefit analysis for making investment decisions was suggested, among other suggestions, to address disaster risk reduction in development. While it is important to embed disaster risk reduction in development decisions, using CBA for making decisions regarding investments has its own limitations. First of all, there is the question of translating the qualitative costs (environmental, social, and cultural) of development into values/monetary terms.  How can we put a value on human and other life forms? To complicate it further, even if we manage to convert these aspects into numeric/monetary value, there is the question of whose perspectives we are using to assign a value. For instance, $1 does not have the same value for the rich and poor – value is subjective. These are some of the critical points that were raised and left me pondering for a long time.

So, the workshop and the Open Forum was a good start to addressing disaster risk reduction in Sri Lanka and in the region. Maybe the way forward for all of us is to focus on sustainable development and good governance and agree on global, regional and national commitments in the September discussions on SDGs and discussions on Climate Change in COP 21 in December. When we focus and work on achieving sustainable development and good governance, it will automatically lead to mainstreaming disaster risk reduction. 

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