Poor countries are the weakest link in resilience

Poor countries are the weakest link in resilience
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan.

Global policy makers should team up to help disaster-prone developing countries manage and anticipate disaster risks as mounting financial losses triggered by disasters will severely hamper their development sustainability, a newly launched United Nations (UN) report suggested.

Introduced on Sunday during the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in the Japanese city of Sendai, the 2015 Global Assessment Report (GAR15) underlines the importance of shifting the focus of collaborative global efforts "from managing disasters to managing risks" in an attempt to address disaster risks that are concentrated in low- and middle-income countries and are currently being magnified by climate change.

The biennial report, launched under the title Making Development Sustainable: The Future of Disaster Risk Management, for example, suggests that many countries, including Chile, Bolivia, Pakistan and Indonesia, would find it difficult to recover from disasters with return periods as small as three to 25 years due to financial constraints.

"In such countries, most loss is uninsured and governments do not have the financial reserves or access to contingency financing that would allow them to absorb losses, recover and rebuild," the report says.

Some 700,000 people have died in disasters between 2005 and 2014, according to the UN. Meanwhile, 1.7 billion people have been affected and the reported economic losses from major disaster events stand at US$1.4 trillion (S$1.9 trillion).

GAR15, the fourth edition of the GAR series published since 2009, estimates that a global investment of US$6 billion annually in disaster risk management would result in avoided losses of US$360 billion over the next 15 years.

The figure, according to the report, only makes up 0.1 per cent of total forecasted expenditure of US$6 trillion annually on new infrastructure.

"For many countries, that small additional investment could make a crucial difference in achieving the national and international goals of ending poverty, improving health and education, and ensuring sustainable and equitable growth," the report says.

Earlier on Saturday, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced during the opening of the WCDRR that his country would provide $4 billion to support the implementation of the "Sendai Cooperation Initiative for Disaster Risk Reduction" over the next four years.

The package will focus on the development of disaster-proof infrastructure, the promotion of global and regional co-operation and the training of 40,000 government officials and local leaders from developing countries.

"Disaster risk reduction is the most important challenge for both developed and developing countries. For developing countries in particular, where 90 per cent of disaster victims are concentrated," he said.

Organized by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the five-day conference is expected to establish new international guidelines for disaster risk reduction to replace the 10-year-old Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA).

Data from the UNISDR show that China has become the country with the most disasters with 286 over the past decade, followed by the US with 212 disasters, the Philippines with 181 and India with 167.

Indonesia, meanwhile, stood at fifth place with 141 disasters, including the December 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that devastated the Aceh province and claimed over 200,000 lives.

In his official statement for the conference's plenary session, Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who made a brief visit to Sendai on Saturday, expressed his appreciation to the international community for their support in providing aid for the post-tsunami recovery of Aceh.

He also said that the upcoming framework of global disaster risk reduction should give attention to countries with specific features, including archipelagic landscapes and extensive coastlines, like Indonesia.

"Indonesia believes that the post-2015 disaster risk reduction framework should include the empowerment of the local community, the utilization of local knowledge and local wisdom, as well as the inclusion of various groups of communities in disaster risk reduction decision making," he said.

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