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Asia can work together to reduce loss of lives, assets in disasters

The “Delhi Declaration” from the AMCDRR will of particular significance for India and the South Asia region. With over 1.7 billion people, it is the most densely populated region in the world and home to some of the worst disasters within Asia.

opinion Updated: Nov 04, 2016 14:30 IST
Martin Faller
Martin Faller
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, second from right, during the three-day Asian Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) 2016 at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi on Thursday.(Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

Delhi is playing host to governments from across the Asia-Pacific at the seventh Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR).

The “Delhi Declaration” from the AMCDRR will be of particular significance for India and the South Asia region. With over 1.7 billion people, it is the most densely populated region in the world and home to some of the worst disasters within Asia.

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The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) data from the World Disasters Report 2016 indicates that 16.5 million people in India were affected by disasters in 2015. Of these, almost 14 million people were affected by floods in July and August — the second largest disaster worldwide in 2015 relative to the number of people affected.

Although the World Disasters Report recognizes India’s progress towards lowering the human toll of disasters, mainly attributed to improved early warning systems, increased connectivity and better local understanding on how to respond to warnings, much more remains to be done to build resilience at community level.

With disasters becoming more frequent, intense and unpredictable, partly due to climate change, this AMCDRR is also significant because it is the first after nations signed up to the global Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in March last year. The Sendai Framework identifies targets and priority actions for governments to reduce loss of lives and assets from disasters.

Hosted by the Indian government, in collaboration with the UNISDR, the ongoing AMCDRR will set the direction for the implementation of the Sendai Framework within Asia-Pacific, a region that is the world’s most disaster-affected. Nearly 43% of the world’s natural hazards happen in this region, affecting 80% of all those impacted globally. This is also where 67% of all disaster-induced deaths occur.

India had also hosted the 2007 AMCDRR. This time, the AMCDRR will bring out a 15-year Asia regional operational plan for the Sendai Framework. The plan will be for governments and communities to work together to reduce disaster risk, from the local to the national levels, in keeping with the AMCDRR theme: ‘Risk sensitive development for community resilience.’ The operational plan will also help the Asian continent achieve national commitments under two other global frameworks – the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Key Focus Areas

The regional operational plan will support national laws and national action. Asian countries have made concerted efforts to make strong disaster laws. However, implementation continues to be a challenge, especially at the local level. Local authorities require resources and capacities to implement legal provisions. Yet, they often remain understaffed and underfunded.

One of the four priority areas for action under the Sendai Framework is ‘to strengthen disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk.’ Good disaster risk governance requires strong disaster laws and active involvement of the community. The AMCDRR recognises that risk reduction works best when communities are resilient. The IFRC Disaster Law Programme supports over 35 Asia-Pacific governments to review and improve disaster laws as well as work with communities to make them more resilient to disasters. The IFRC is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation comprising 190-member Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies set by an Act of Parliament in each of the countries.

Strong disaster laws ensure that communities are equipped with local knowledge and local capacities to reduce disaster risks. About 86% of the National Societies in this region are part of the local decision-making bodies. Strengthening these National Societies is one significant step towards effective implementation of disaster management laws in the region and achieve outcomes envisaged under the global frameworks.

The poorest and the socially marginalised people, especially women and girls, are most vulnerable to disasters and have least access to coping opportunities. Governments will be able to strengthen implementation of disaster laws by ensuring targeted data collection that maps geographical and human vulnerabilities, taking into account age, gender, ethnic background and class. Mapping intra-household data will better ensure that preparedness and benefits are accessible to the most vulnerable sections of society.

Disaster laws will also be better implemented with formulation of district-level multi-disaster management plans as well as mainstream risk reduction in every department by allocating financial resources to take care of these risks.

Lastly, factoring in climate variability, disaster risk reduction laws need to be integrated with legal provisions on climate change adaptation. This will ensure that people are not only able to cope with disaster risks but are also able to deal with uncertainties that are making disasters more unpredictable, intense and more frequent.

(Martin Faller is the deputy director for Asia Pacific, IFRC)

First Published: Nov 04, 2016 14:04 IST