By Dizery Salim
Rio de Janeiro - Around 200 legislators from 74 countries and the European Union met yesterday on the sidelines of the UN Rio+20 sustainable development conference this afternoon to approve a "Legislators' Protocol," containing a set of "Rio Scrutiny Principles" to strengthen legislators' capacity to hold governments to account on promises made at development conferences including Rio+20.
Addressing the gathering of parliamentarians at Tiradentes Palace, the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro, the UN Special Representative on Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, praised delegates for seeking more accountability from nations on sustainable development commitments.
"Parliamentarians can help governments connect the dots by passing legislation that links aspects such as natural capital accounting, disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and mitigation," she said.
The function of coordinating and overseeing disaster risk reduction is often placed with the wrong national entity -- usually the national disaster management body -- with little capacity for policy coherence, she told the parliamentarians at the end of their two-day World Summit of Legislators, which began on 15 June.
"One thing that would give immediate support for decision-making is understanding the scope and nature of losses from disasters. Very few countries today systematically invest in disaster loss accounting. For effective decision-making, you need to know what is the measure of the impact of a particular disaster on my country.
"Decision making and budgeting needs clear information. Lawmakers can help establish systematic disaster loss accounting. Knowing what is lost, when and where, will help identify priorities to protect development investments and the achievement of development goals," she said, urging them to pass laws mandating the establishment of disaster loss accounting.
With support from legislators who are also members of UNISDR's Parliamentarian Advisory Group for Disaster Risk Reduction, the newly agreed Protocol includes a commitment to mainstream disaster risk reduction into policy making.
In 2010, UNISDR worked with a group of parliamentarians on key messages to assist lawmakers to understand the links between disasters, disaster risk reduction and development, producing an advocacy kit for legislators to use when promoting the integration of disaster risk reduction in national development planning. This was framed to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.
Saber Chowdhury, a founder member of UNISDR's Parliamentarian Advisory Group for Disaster Risk Reduction, articulated those messages with his peers at the World Summit of Legislators yesterday, at a session on climate change and disaster risk reduction where several delegates shared experiences on existing legislation and what were perceived as shortcomings in this field.
"Disaster risk reduction and its conceptual link to climate change is an issue that has not featured prominently so far. By recognizing it in the first World Summit is an important start," Mr. Chowdhury said.
"In Bangladesh alone, we lose 3 per cent of GDP on account of disasters. This could be the difference between the country coming out of poverty or remaining mired in it. A recent study by the OECD says losses from disasters are outpacing wealth creation even in rich countries. It's an issue for the entire world," he said.
"Sustainability was going to be a major challenge in any event, even without climate change. By 2030, the world will need 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy, and 30 per cent more water. When you superimpose climate change imperatives on that scenario, it is frightening. One single disaster can put a country back 10 to 15 years. All good work done on the Millennium Development Goals is jeopardized by one single impact."
For Bangladesh, the threat of climate change is all too true. In the Himalayas, the "water towers" of south Asia are melting because of global warming, which Mr. Chowdhury is convinced will result in more flooding in the short term and will cause water scarcity in the long term.
And, as sea levels rise, salinity destroys the fertility of agricultural land, he explained.
"In Bangladesh we are trying to bring in convergence between climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. We dredge rivers that can hold more water and won't flood. We use the material we dredge to elevate embankments and we plant trees there. This is climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction happening at the same time.
"We are growing saline resistant crops to reducing the risk of disasters so crops are not compromised."
Through its parliamentary advisory group, UNISDR is already providing technical support to parliamentarians from countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Philippines, Uganda, Senegal and Zambia seeking to promote laws that support disaster risk reduction and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Ms. Wahlström told delegates that UNISDR was keen to work closely with them to create tools to assist their monitoring efforts, as well as to bring together governments, parliamentarians and the United Nations to advance common concerns.
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