Natural Disasters: Managing Risks And Crises Differently

05/18/2016 12:45 EDT | Updated 05/19/2017 05:12 EDT
Sri Lankan landslide survivors walk through the mud after a landslide in Elangipitiya village in Aranayaka about 72 kilometers (45 miles) north east of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, May 18, 2016. Soldiers and police used sticks and bare hands Wednesday to dig through enormous piles of mud covering houses in three villages hit by massive landslides in central Sri Lanka, with hundreds of families reported missing. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

By Susan Johnson

This post is the fifth of a seven-part series on the themes of the High-Level Leaders' Roundtables at the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul, Turkey.

When Canada's Development Minister Bibeau joins with world leaders in Istanbul later in May for the World Humanitarian Summit, she will have a lot of very critical issues to consider.

One of the leaders' High-Level Round Tables, entitled "Managing Risks and Crises Differently," will focus on disasters, climate change and community resilience.

Why would this be on the agenda?

Two simple reasons:

First, still too many people are in harm's way when disasters strike. In the 20 years between 1995 and 2015, 90 per cent of recorded major disasters caused by natural hazards were linked to climate and weather including floods, storms, heat waves and droughts. Since the first UN Climate Change Conference in 1995, more than 600,000 people have lost their lives in these kinds of tragic events, and more than four billion people have been injured, left homeless or in need of emergency assistance as a result of weather-related disasters.

Second, we know that many of these deaths and injuries are preventable with simple community level investments. In the past twenty years there have been several studies -- by the World Bank, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and several insurance companies -- which have demonstrated time and again that investing before disasters happen to get communities ready to cope with disasters is much more cost-effective than waiting for disasters to happen.

Yet investments in disaster risk reduction remain a low priority for governments and public campaigns to raise money for preparedness usually fall far short of meeting needs.

So, to address these issues governments will be asked to make four important commitments:

• To invest in data, analysis and early warning of natural disaster and climate change risks to improve understanding, anticipation and early action;

• To reinforce the management of natural disaster and climate change risks by enabling national and local leadership, taking a more collective, longer-term approach and focusing, in particular, on strengthening preparedness and predictable response arrangements;

• To build community resilience as a critical first line of response; and

• To ensure regional and global humanitarian assistance for natural disasters complements national and local efforts.

Climate change will no doubt mean more and more communities will be at risk.

Through these commitments governments are asked to make a couple of important shifts: first, to recognize and invest in local organizations, and second, to invest before disaster strikes. Both of these are eminently sensible.

From our many years of experience here in Canada and internationally, we know that when disaster strikes it is local people -- our neighbours -- who are the first to respond. When they are overwhelmed it is important to have reinforcement from other communities -- be they nearby or across the world. Making these WHS commitments comes at a perfect moment for Canada. The Minister is expected to launch our own government's Development Framework Review in May also. The WHS menu of commitments will give government officials and the Canadian humanitarian and development communities a strong set of aspirational yet very achievable goals that can be woven into Canada's approach to development assistance.

Canada has, once again, the opportunity to be a world leader in forward-thinking and concrete actions that will translate into making communities safer. Climate change will no doubt mean more and more communities will be at risk. Strong commitments to invest in resilience, preparedness and response capacities -- all of which will reduce the impact on the most vulnerable -- are vital.

Susan Johnson is Deputy Secretary General and Senior Vice President at the Canadian Red Cross.

This blog series on the World Humanitarian Summit was convened by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation. The views expressed in each blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC, its members, or other participating organizations.

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