Adopting Wide-Ranging Political Declaration, General Assembly Reaffirms Commitment to Reduce Disaster Risk, Build Resilience with Renewed Sense of Urgency
With only seven years left to implement a landmark 2015 agreement to reduce damage, losses and death from natural and man-made disasters by the 2030 target date, the General Assembly today reaffirmed its commitment to address disaster risk reduction and resilience-building with a renewed sense of urgency in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.
Kicking off a two-day, high-level meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York to review the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and its seven global targets at the halfway point, global leaders adopted by consensus a political declaration (document A/77/L.70) reiterating the Framework’s call to substantially limit disaster risk and loss while acknowledging that conventional approaches are no longer adequate.
“We recognize the need for a broader and more people-centred preventive approach, reflecting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” Heads of Government, ministers and high representatives said, stressing that disaster risk reduction policies and practices must be “multi-hazard and multisectoral, inclusive and accessible in order to be efficient and effective.” Leaders also recommitted to foster collaboration across global and regional mechanisms and institutions employed to implement disaster risk reduction instruments and tools for climate change, biodiversity, agriculture and health, among other related areas.
Expressing deep concern over the increasing frequency, intensity and impacts of disasters and the insufficient, unequal pace of implementing the Framework despite positive results, leaders recognized the need to shift from managing disasters and their impact to reducing and preventing disaster risk. Their wide-ranging declaration establishes four priority areas — understanding disaster risk; strengthening disaster risk governance to manage risk; investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience; and enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
To that end, the Assembly called upon States to, among other things, improve data collection and national mechanisms to share disaster risk data and analysis, both regionally and internationally; identify public spending gaps, allocate more domestic resources and engage with the private sector to scale up its investment; urgently extend the reach of multi-hazard early warning systems everywhere — especially in developing countries and middle-income countries facing specific challenges; and ensure that response, recovery and rehabilitation plans are cross-sectoral and address underlying drivers of disaster risk.
Opening the meeting, Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary) said: “Eight years on [from the adoption of the Sendai Framework], we must admit that our progress has not kept pace with the urgency of our days.” The known number of people affected by disasters has jumped 80-fold since 2015; the shocks ignited by unattended risk — as amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict and climate change — have torn through the world’s systems; millions have been left homeless and starving; and the gross inequities of an international financial order that has often prized profits over people have been laid bare. As such, the international community — whose decisions are still out of sync with the reality that nature’s resources are finite — must rethink and recalibrate systems and structures, acknowledge its enormous responsibility for human-induced climate change and stop undervaluing its actions’ costs.
As the midterm review is the last chance before 2030 to collectively change course, the international community should ensure that choices are planet-smart and people-centred; measure prosperity with a tool that captures the true cost of human, social, natural and built capital; and shift away from extractive and transactional behaviours, he said. Risk governance and management must evolve in ways that are proportionate to the challenges at hand. Encouraging all to renew the drive for a multilateral system which is ready for the new risk landscape, he emphasized: “The transformation towards resilience is ours to craft.”
Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, similarly urged the international community to address contemporary challenges by changing its risk responses through systemic thinking and collaborative action. “Disaster risk reduction is critical,” she stressed, underlining: “Nothing erodes sustainable development like disasters, which can often destroy decades of progress in minutes.” The failure to identify, prevent and reduce risks before they manifest as disasters not only jeopardizes the Sustainable Development Goals but also affects the most vulnerable.
Governance and financial systems must be upgraded to ensure accountability; resources to protect people and natural capital must be deployed; market “short-termism” and other failures must be addressed; and decisions must be based on science and strategic foresight while fully integrating local, traditional and Indigenous knowledge, she outlined. It is time to make a dramatic shift from managing disasters to managing risk and investing in prevention, she declared, underlining that people, communities, countries, sustainable development and the future’s planet are all depending on it. “Managing risk is not an option — it’s a global commitment and it belongs to each and every one of us,” she underscored.
Detailing progress despite enormous challenges, Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, pointed to a significant increase in the number of countries with national strategies, the growth in regional and subregional cooperation mechanisms and innovations in risk financing and risk transfer mechanisms, among other developments. However, since this progress on the Sendai Framework remains unequal across geographies, scales and income levels, all States and stakeholders must take forward the political declaration’s calls to action, especially on strengthening the availability of and capacity to apply risk information, improving implementation means and enhancing multi-hazard risk governance.
While reducing disaster risk is possible, it notably calls for collective commitment to sociocultural change, a culture of prevention and the integration of disaster risk management — an opportunity which Member States must not squander. Choosing the path of timidity by maintaining business as usual not only jeopardizes sustainable development but also humanity’s very existence. “Let us rise to the occasion, apply what we have learned and ensure risk-informed decision-making, investment and behavior in all societies, so that current and future generations have a future filled not with fear, but with hope,” she asserted.
Mwanahamisi Singano, Senior Global Policy Lead at the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, pointed out that 2015 was a historic year in that it brought a wave of collective optimism and hope which gave courage to envision a world where disasters will be prevented and their impact minimized, no one left behind, climate injustices ended and planetary health restored. As the world adopted its Sendai Framework, she was crisscrossing Africa with other activists to create awareness, mobilize communities and support women on engaging in global processes. “Today […] I am here to appeal to you to get the work done,” she said, emphasizing that the midterm report on implementation screams that work is not being done at the required scale and pace.
The world can do the hard work now or later: either it engages women and girls to build their resilience or buries them in numbers; supports communities’ disaster risk reduction or mobilizes unattainable amounts of humanitarian aid; and makes finance available to least developed countries and small island developing States or faces the catastrophe of wiping sovereign States off the face of the universe. Since later comes at a significant cost, women and communities are already providing the necessary leadership to get the hard work done. “We only need to do our part to connect and support them,” she stressed, calling on all, as they leave the halls of power, to be courageous by scaling investment to countries and communities, strengthening collaboration and developing a gender action plan alongside a whole-of-society and whole-of-Government approach.
Speaking as someone who has experienced that significant cost, Mustafa Kemal Kilinç — a 23-year-old youth representative whose hometown, Hatay, suffered the most damage when earthquakes struck Türkiye on 6 February — recounted that “It was 4:17 a.m. — very strong tremors woke me up from deep sleep; my bed was shaking hard. When I tried to get up, the ground was shaking so violently that I felt it was going to swallow me.” Though the powerful earthquake eventually stopped, the aftershocks nevertheless continued, with each one triggering more fear. It was a race against time to search for a safe place to take shelter because there was no way of knowing when the next wave would hit, much less its strength. Amid countless buildings in ruins and people on the street, homeless, across his city, 14,000 buildings were destroyed and 70,000 had heavy damage.
While his earthquake-resistant building did not collapse, he nevertheless could not go home because of the continuing aftershocks and the lack of basic services. After living in their car for a week, his family moved across the country to stay with relatives and returned to Hatay after a few weeks to try to build back their life. “The days following the earthquakes, we were always torn between the joy of good news and the sadness of bad news,” he said. Getting the dead bodies of relatives and friends out of the rubble was also challenge as he waited for hours and even days to give them a proper burial. Beyond that, fires broke at the seaport from collapsed containers; survivors lived on the streets amid dust, rubble, cold weather and rain; and as rain became floods, it killed more people and unleashed more destruction. With roads and railways collapsed and transportation made difficult, immediate, large assistance was impossible.
Yet, his spirits were lifted when he saw how authorities, non-governmental organizations and countries around the world mobilized to help. While the world cannot predict natural disasters, it can nevertheless certainly be prepared whenever and wherever they happen. “This is why I told you my story, so you understand what a disaster victim feels and experiences,” he said, stressing: “I hope that, as a result of your work, there will be less disaster victims like myself around the world.”
The representative of Venezuela, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends in Defence of the Charter of the United Nations in explanation of vote after the declaration’s adoption, underlined the impact of unilateral coercive measures which prevent the full attainment and achievement of development among developing countries. How can we discuss the full and effective implementation of the Sendai Framework and the 2030 Agenda when more than 30 countries around the world are preventing from making progress on disaster risk reduction programmes and funding? she asked. As having all the necessary resources and conditions to implement that Framework at local and national levels is urgently need, such unilateral measures must be ended fully and unconditionally, she insisted.
During a plenary session titled “Charting liveable pathways for humans and nature”, ministers and other high-level Government officials highlighted national perspectives on implementing the Sendai Framework to date, identified actions to amplify and expedite risk-informed action, shared commitments and transformative efforts while spotlighting areas and issues of concern.
Many stressed that their Governments are committed to meeting the risk reduction targets laid out by the Framework, even as their countries and people face ongoing cyclones, brushfires, flooding and other natural disasters. Desmond McKenzie, Minister for Local Government and Rural Development of Jamaica, shared that his country is continuing to identify innovative ways to meet Framework targets, as Christos Stylianides, Minister for Climate Crisis and Civil Protection of Greece, said his Government is creating a national database with the support of scientists and experts to identify and mitigate risks as it strengthens a risk response centre.
Adding to that, Sakiasi Raisevu Ditoka, Minister for Rural, Maritime Development and Disaster Management of Fiji — speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum — said the Forum has used the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific and its inclusive Pacific Resilience Partnership to translate the global principles and objectives of the Sendai Framework into actionable measures tailored to the Pacific islands. However, Shawn Edward, Minister for Education, Sustainable Development, Innovation, Science, Technology and Vocational Training of Saint Lucia — speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) — pointed out that progress has stalled and sometimes been reversed from the COVID-19 pandemic, a weakened multilateral system and the lack of progress in addressing climate change. In that vein, CARICOM sends a clear message that there is considerable work yet to be done and a change in direction is necessary, he said, underscoring: “We are at a tipping point of unsustainable debt.”
Numerous speakers then underlined the dire need for funding and means of implementation, particularly as it concerned their regions and national contexts. Carlos James, Minister for Tourism, Civil Aviation, Sustainable Development and Culture of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, pointed out that his country has faced a vivid demonstration of the perilous fragility of hard-won developmental gains. Highly vulnerable to climate change, the pandemic and cascading hazards such as volcanic eruptions and hurricanes, his country is keenly aware that sustainable development is impossible without aggressive action to bolster resilience, adaptation and environmental protection. Support for early preparedness with specific consideration of the vulnerabilities of small island developing States must remain high on the agenda. Emilie Enger Mehl, Minister for Justice and Public Security of Norway, also called for gender inclusion strategies to be developed.
Building on that on behalf of the African Group, Parks Tau, Deputy Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs of South Africa, said that an estimated 60 per cent of Africa lacks access to early warning and climate information services. Yet, as climate-related disasters have nearly doubled, disaster risk reduction-related official development assistance (ODA) has barely increased from 0.4 per cent for the pre-disaster phase from 1990 to 2010 to 0.5 per cent from 2010 to 2019. Adopting national and international instruments to address societal risk, however, do not guarantee implementation because they still need resources, he added in his national capacity.
National-level commitments and actions face restrictions, Moussa Batraki, the Minister for Economic Planning and International Partnerships of Chad explained, noting that his country — despite establishing a fund, creating a parliamentary commission and developing a national action plan — has to allocate over 20 per cent of its budget to defence and security as a landlocked country.
Michael Usi, Minister for Natural Resources and Climate Change of Malawi — whose national successes on strategies, legislation, platforms and assessments also did not come without challenges around limited technology utilization, capacity and financing — called for the creation and consolidation of partnerships. Peaceful coexistence with neighbouring countries is a social investment, he asserted, highlighting the response of Mozambique, Zambia, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe as they came to his country’s rescue in the face of Cyclone Freddy. Regional solidarity and cooperation notably enabled the South African Development Community to mobilize regional support to Malawi’s humanitarian response and will become the basis for a regional early warning system.
The Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration on the Strategic and Holistic Initiative to Link [the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN)] Responses to Emergencies and Disasters — “ASEAN SHIELD” — is another example of such cooperation, Dato Seri Setia Haji Ahmaddin Bin Haji Abdul Rahman, Minister for Home Affairs of Brunei Darussalam, said, further underlining the importance of regional collaboration, especially on transboundary risks and hazards.
Since collaboration to meet the transnational nature of disaster risks is essential, there must be more investment in Africa and the least developed countries, Annelies Verlinden, Minister for the Interior, Institutional Renewal and Democratic Reform of Belgium, advocated. Strengthening responses and resilience at the community and grassroots level is also vital, Wilfred Arthur Abrahams, Minister for Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs of Barbados, stressed as Taina Bofferding, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Equality between Women and Men of Luxembourg, similarly highlighted the need to recognize the value of community-based groups working at the local level and meet the needs of vulnerable people with disabilities.
Representatives also emphasized the need for such disaster risk reduction endeavours to not only be comprehensive but also integrate with sustainable development initiatives and address root causes. Domingo Matías, Deputy Minister for Territorial Organization and Development of the Dominican Republic, said risk management must be a daily endeavour and culture that sees response as an opportunity for sustainable development and for overcoming poverty, which is the main driver of risk. Since Governments have the responsibility to act and think consciously, they must also incorporate the experiences, historic memory, customs, knowledge and skills of survivors.
Cuba’s delegate, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, however, pointed out that unilateral coercive measures are making crises responses more difficult — a reality that was disappointingly not reflected in the political declaration. The lack of accessible and high-quality data alongside the capacity to interpret such information also seriously hinders effects to implement the Sendai Framework, he further outlined. To that end, international cooperation mechanisms such as South-South cooperation and those with different United Nations entities must strengthen to increase access, information and assessments. Enhancing cooperation platforms to consolidate and activate financing mechanisms will help reduce people’s vulnerability and create the conditions for climate change adaptation and resilience, Ivete Maibaze, Minister for Land and Environment of Mozambique, underscored.
Janez Lenarčič, European Union Commissioner for Crisis Management, said his bloc is stepping up its cooperation with partner countries and tackling the climate crisis head-on by placing resilience at the centre of its policymaking. Through the framework of the European Green Deal, it has adopted initiatives to scale up climate change mitigation and adaptation, strengthen biodiversity protections and tackle pollution. Yet this is not enough as the international community must use this moment to “recommit its energies and spare no effort in reaching its goals”.
Katalin Novák, President of Hungary, said that her country — for its part as a middle-sized nation in the heart of Europe with a population of 10 million — has made outstanding efforts to help those in need when compared with its resources and local conditions. Since 2017, her Government has sponsored about 300 humanitarian and rehabilitation projects in 54 countries worth more than $100 million. “Whom do we want to save our planet for, if not for the next generation?” she asked.
Pledging to support partners and people in need through humanitarian assistance and development cooperation, Johann Saathoff, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for the Interior and Community of Germany, stressed that the countries most affected by disasters need to be systematically strengthened with transformative prevention and recovery approaches that facilitate anticipatory action and transition development assistance. “Our time is really running out,” he underlined, emphasizing: “The only perspective against this is to work together [and] not against each other because we face the danger together.”