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Out of a widely felt need for a common international framework for responding to the challenge presented to the international community by the increasing incidence and scale of disasters, in December 1999 the United Nations General Assembly[1] established the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) with the following objectives:

a) to enable communities to become resilient to the effects of natural, technological and environmental hazards, thus reducing the compound risk posed to social and economic vulnerabilities within modern societies; and

b) to proceed from protection against hazards to the management of risk, by integrating risk prevention strategies into sustainable development activities. The establishment of ISDR reflected a major conceptual shift from the traditional emphasis on disaster response towards holistic disaster reduction. It recognized that natural hazards in themselves do not inevitably lead to disasters, but that disasters result from the impact of natural hazards on vulnerable social systems. In other words, disasters can be prevented through conscious human action designed to reduce vulnerability.

The World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDR, Kobe, Japan, 2005) represented a landmark in worldwide commitment to implementing a disaster reduction agenda. The 168 States attending the Conference adopted The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters (A/CONF. 206/6), which was endorsed by the General Assembly in resolution 60/195. The Framework's 10-year plan reflects the intention to take a holistic approach in identifying and putting into action complex multidisciplinary disaster risk reduction measures. The Hyogo Framework for Action calls for the pursuit of three strategic goals[2] through 2015 for the substantial reduction of disaster losses, in lives and in the social, economic and environmental assets of communities and countries within the 10 years in conformity with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Hyogo Framework also defined five priorities for action[3] and identified the collective and individual roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders in its implementation and follow-up.

The Hyogo Framework gave new impetus for strengthening the ISDR. Following the WCDR, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs (USG) launched a consultative process to consider practical ways of strengthening the ISDR System, building on existing mandates, institutions, partnerships and mechanisms and with the key purpose of implementing the Hyogo Framework for Action. The rationale for strengthening the ISDR and describing it as a system of partnerships was based on the need for making substantial progress in implementing a world-wide disaster risk reduction agenda, which calls for concerted efforts by all stakeholders.

The Hyogo Framework acknowledges that disaster risk reduction is a cross-cutting issue in the context of sustainable development and therefore an important element for the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration. Hence, the successful implementation of the Hyogo Framework requires a strengthened capacity of the ISDR System to provide a solid basis for action. Increased commitment and engagement by States, intergovernmental organizations, international financial institutions, UN and other international agencies, regional entities and civil society organizations, and systematic tracking of disaster reduction investments are required. Only through more, and more effective partnerships among these stakeholders can disaster risk reduction become an integral component of environmental, economic and social development. The Hyogo Framework emphasizes that the primary responsibility for implementation and follow-up lies with States, involving national public administration structures, the scientific community and civil society. The direct participation of States[4] in the international / global ISDR System is particularly crucial for building a stronger, more systematic and coherent international effort to support national disaster reduction activities.

As United Nations reform moves forward to bring all United Nations funds, programmes and specialized agencies closer together in achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, greater coherence at the global and regional levels is needed. Political commitment is required for the systematic integration of risk reduction into development plans, with increased provision of resources and application of knowledge of disaster reduction by Member States, their communities and the wider international community[5].

Initial proposals for the future functions and development of the ISDR System were based on a number of studies and consultations on the functioning of the ISDR mechanisms, its capacities and potential and the capacities of the United Nations system to deal with disaster risk issues. These built on the Reports of the Secretary-General (A/54/497; A/54/136-E/1999/89; A/60/180; A/61/229), General Assembly Resolutions (54/219; 56/195; 59/231; 60/195) and Economic and Social Council Resolution 1999/63. Extensive consultations with Strategy partners and national organizations subsequently provided the basis for strengthening the institutional framework of the Strategy, as outlined in a previous report to the General Assembly on its implementation (A/60/180).

The following are mutually dependent guiding principles for the strengthened ISDR System.
  • The process of strengthening the ISDR System will evolve over time, beginning with the system as it currently exists and working outwards from that core. The ISDR System as a whole can add value to specific national and sub-national processes by bringing additional coherence and coordination to the support provided by the international community (global public goods) to strengthen and support national and local incentives and capacities.
  • Given the considerable range of institutional mechanisms, strategies, plans and policies that already exist to promote disaster reduction in different regions and countries, the strengthened ISDR System should build on and enhance what currently exists.
  • The heterogeneity of current institutional mechanisms across regions and countries expresses the complexity of the disaster risk problematic and completely different political, social, economic and cultural realities. This heterogeneity should be embraced by the ISDR System as a strength rather than as a weakness.
  • In institutional terms, the evolution of the ISDR System should tend towards inclusiveness and promote the concept of a disaster risk reduction movement. The current membership should expand gradually to include the full range of Member States, regional and sub-regional organizations, NGOs, scientific, technical and academic organizations, financial institutions, private sector organisations, local authorities etc. that are involved in reducing disaster risk.
  • Strengthening the regional level of the ISDR System is key to achieving greater coherence in support to national level implementation by regional and international organizations and should be given a particular priority in the strengthening of the system as a whole.
  • In work-planning terms, the ISDR System should promote sets of coordinated, integrated and prioritised activities to address disaster risk reduction challenges specific to different geographic levels and thematic concerns. Work-planning processes should promote greater coherence and joint working between system partners.
  • The priorities for strengthening the ISDR System and its work-planning processes must refer to achieving a measurable reduction in disaster losses at the national level, through the attainment of clearly articulated results, particularly in high risk, low capacity countries. All activities undertaken by the system at the global and regional levels should be guided by this rationale to generate enhanced political and economic incentives for reducing disaster risk at national level.
  • The strengthening of the ISDR System should bring enhanced coherence to the work of the different partners at each scale, increasing effectiveness and avoiding duplication, overlaps and gaps. At the same time, it should provide a vehicle for increased investment in disaster risk reduction, at all levels.
The key elements of the strengthened ISDR System were outlined in the UN Secretary-General's reports on the Implementation of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction A/60/180 and A/61/229. The paper entitled "Proposal of the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs to Strengthen the ISDR System" reflected the status of these consultations as of the first session of the Global Platform which took place 5 - 7 June 2007. The paper was presented to the Global Platform for information. Based on the outcome of the Global Platform and informal consultations since that time, some adjustment in the arrangements for the ISDR System have been introduced, which is fully endorsed by the main groups of ISDR stakeholders.

1: General Assembly resolution A/RES/54/219; UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) resolution 1999/63; confirmed by A/RES/56/195

2: These strategic goals are:
  • 1. The more effective integration of disaster risk considerations into sustainable development policies, planning and programming at all levels, with a special emphasis on disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness and vulnerability reduction.
  • 2. The development and strengthening of institutions, mechanisms and capacities at all levels, in particular at the community level, that can systematically contribute to building resilience to hazards.
  • 3. The systematic incorporation of risk reduction approaches into the design and implementation of emergency preparedness, response and recovery programmes in the reconstruction of affected communities.
  • 3: The five priorities for action are:
  • 1. Ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and a local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation.
  • 2. Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning.
  • 3. Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels.
  • 4. Reduce the underlying risk factors.
  • 5. Strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels.
  • 4: States were not previously considered part of the ISDR System, except for providing the overall governing foundation through the UN General Assembly but each country was encouraged to establish multi-sectoral national platforms for disaster risk reduction. States did, however, attend the meetings of the Inter Agency Task Force as observers.

    5: These needs were highlighted in the Report of the Secretary-General's High Level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence, in particular providing for more coherent and consolidated disaster reduction support to Governments, and linking the system to national development strategies, with a view to "disaster-proofing"" the Millennium Development Goals. ("Delivering as one" - Report of the Secretary-General's High Level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence, November 2006).
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