Disaster prevention, risk reduction, critical to sustainable future: UN deputy chief


The world will experience 1.5 medium to large-scale disasters every day through the end of the decade, unless countries ramp up action on prevention and risk reduction, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in Bali, Indonesia, on Wednesday.

Mohammed was speaking at the opening of the Seventh Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction – the first international forum on the issue since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – bringing together governments, the UN and key stakeholders.

During the three-day meeting, participants will take stock of implementation of a 2015 agreement known as the Sendai Framework, which aims to protect development gains from the risk of disaster.

The UN deputy chief told participants that the world is looking to the forum for leadership, wisdom, and expertise.

“The decisions you take can play a significant part in preventing another calamity like the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “We can – and we must – put our efforts firmly behind prevention and risk reduction, and build a safe, sustainable, resilient and equitable future for all.”

Disasters are already hampering global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Stressing the need for urgency, Mohammed outlined four areas for action, starting with learning from the pandemic.

“We must secure better coherence and implementation of the humanitarian development nexus. That means improving risk governance. Because despite our efforts, risk creation is outpacing risk reduction,” she said.

Mohammed noted that currently, there are no governance frameworks in place to manage risks and to mitigate their impact. She said the UN’s 2022 Global Assessment Report, published last month, outlines ways in which governance systems can evolve to better address systemic risks.

The report “makes clear that in a world of uncertainty, understanding and reducing risk, is fundamental to achieving sustainable development”, she added.

For her second point, Mohammed emphasized the importance of investing in stronger data capabilities.

She pointed to “new multilateral instruments” in this area, such as the UN’s Complex Risk Analytics Fund, which supports “data ecosystems” that can better anticipate, prevent, and respond to complex threats, before they turn into full-blown disasters.

“This includes jointly developing risk analysis, and investing in coordination and data infrastructure that enables knowledge-sharing and joint anticipatory action. Such investments will us help us navigate complex risks earlier, faster, and in a more targeted and efficient manner,” she said.

As the world’s Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States suffer disproportionately during disasters, her third point centred on giving greater focus to them.

Disasters in these countries can wipe out decades of development progress and economic growth, she said, with very serious long-term economic and social consequences.

“We urgently need to step up international cooperation for prevention and disaster risk reduction in the most vulnerable countries and for the most vulnerable communities, including women and girls, people with disabilities, the poor, marginalized and isolated,” she said.

Mohammed listed the provision of Early Warning Systems as one example of an effective measure that provides a considerable return on investment.

She said the UN Secretary-General has asked the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) to present an action plan at the next UN Climate Conference (COP27), to be held in Egypt in November, aimed at ensuring that every person on earth is covered by Early Warning Systems within five years.

For her final point, Mohammed called for the public and financial sectors to be “risk proofed”, stating that “we need to ‘think resilience’, account for the real cost of disasters and incentivise risk reduction, to stop the spiral of disaster losses.”

Governments also need to factor disaster risk reduction into financial frameworks, while “alternative measurements, beyond Gross Domestic Product, should take account of disaster risk and resilience.”

The President of the UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, said that one overriding lesson of COVID and the climate crisis, was that those who are furthest behind, and who suffer the most are “far to often, wiped away by whatever crisis comes their way.”

“Our recovery from the pandemic must reflect this knowledge. Resilience, must be our mantra”, he said.

“Every new building, every new social programme, every budget and every initiative must be designed and executed in a way that reduces risk. It must be embedded into everything we do, from the very beginning, and cross-checked at each step of the way.

“And the importance, no, the necessity, of this will only increase.”

Shahid said the requirement now, was for a “transformative recovery” that makes up for gaps in economic, social, and environmental policies, and over production and consumption.

“Everything about the way we live on this planet, must now be seen through a precautionary lens, ever mindful of the volatility that exists, and laser focused on covering gaps and strengthening defences.

Such a recovery, he said, “requires more than policy, it requires whole-of-society ownership.”

The Seventh Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction was organised by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and is being hosted by the Government of Indonesia.

President Joko Widodo said his country is highly prone to disasters.

“In 2022, as of 23 May 1,300 disasters have taken place, and in a month, on average, 500 earthquakes happened,” he said.

“Therefore, at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, today, the government of Indonesia offers to the world the concept of resilience as a solution to mitigate all forms of disasters, including pandemics.”

President Widodo also called on all nations to “commit and be serious” in implementing the Sendai Framework.