UNDRR's Mami Mizutori: Mediterranean area marks record burnt areas in 2022 - Many countries don't invest in disaster risk reduction

Source(s): Athens-Macedonian News Agency
SRSG Mami Mizutori speaking at the press conference following the Action-Oriented Dialogue that took place in Athens, Greece on 21st October 2022.
Ministry for Climate Crisis and Civil Protection - Hellenic Republic
SRSG Mami Mizutori speaking at the press conference following the Action-Oriented Dialogue that took place in Athens, Greece on 21st October 2022.

"Currently, many governments do not prioritize disaster risk reduction sufficiently because they see it as a cost for an event that might never happen. To date, the vast majority of government funding goes to disaster response rather than disaster prevention", Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), said in an interview to Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA). 

At the same time, as she highlighted, countries of the Mediterranean region are facing the devastating impacts of climate change over the last summers, including extreme temperatures and heatwaves, which have caused areas burnt by wildfires in 2022 to be four times greater than the 2006-2021 average, according to the European Forest Fire Information System. 
In addition, as Mami Mizutori underlined, Greece has shown leadership in addressing the challenges posed by climate change by the establishing the dedicated Ministry for Climate Crisis and Civil Protection. As she said, Greece has also shown leadership on heat and wildfire management by piloting this year the European Commission’s plan for the pre-deployment of 250 European forest firefighters in Greece to combat expected fires under the European Civil Protection Mechanism, investing 72 million euros in wildfire prevention through the 'Antinero' programme, and hosting a regional meeting on heat and wildfire risks and to accelerate implementation of the EFDRR Roadmap. 

Moreover, Ms Mizutori underlined the importance of early warning systems, as a recent study shows that countries investing in strong early warning systems have, on average, a disaster mortality rate that is eight times lower than countries that do not.

Following below is the interview Mami Mizutori gave to ANA-MPA journalist Ioanna Kardara.

ANA: In recent years we have had to deal with the consequences of natural disasters in our lives, which many times cause the loss of human lives. What measures could the countries take for Disasters Risk Reduction? What are the strategies which the countries should follow?

First of all, it is important to note that there are no "natural" disasters, only natural hazards.

Disasters are mismanaged risks and thus can be avoided or reduced through proactive risk management. Human activity is increasing the number and scale of disasters. Over the last 20 years, the number of disasters has nearly doubled, much it driven by climate change. If these trends continue, by 2030, the world is projected to face 560 medium- to large-scale disasters per year, or 1.5 a day.

Currently, many governments do not prioritise disaster risk reduction (DRR) sufficiently because they see it as a cost for an event that might never happen. To date, the vast majority of government funding goes to disaster response rather than disaster prevention. This is despite evidence that shows that greater investments in DRR not only save lives and livelihoods but can generate huge savings in terms of avoided losses and reconstruction costs.

The goal of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 is to guide countries on how to best reduce current risks, prevent future ones, and thus reduce disaster losses. Full implementation of the Framework, including its seven targets, is the best measure countries can take to reduce the burden of disasters on their people and economies.

UNDRR, along with other UN agencies, provides technical support to a number of countries to help them implement and monitor their progress against the Sendai Framework (Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030). This includes supporting member states to adopt and implement national and local disaster risk reduction strategies that take a comprehensive approach to risk management. We also seek to help countries strengthen the synergies between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in their strategic planning processes.

While governments have the primary responsibility for reducing disaster risks, it must be an all-of-society effort, as disasters impact everyone. This means engaging with civil society, academia, the private sector, and organizations representing those most vulnerable to disasters, such as older persons, women, youth, migrants, and persons with disabilities.

The basis for any successful DRR plan or activity is understanding risk. Hence, it is important that countries invest in building their knowledge and data capacities. This knowledge must then be integrated into all development and humanitarian plans to ensure decisions and investments are risk-informed and help to build resilience.

A "Think Resilience" approach must be applied to all decision-making to ensure that every investment is risk-informed, and that adequate resources are secured for the successful implementation of DRR plans. This includes national level support to help local authorities, if needed.

In your recent message at the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, you refer on the early warning systems, which could save human lives. Could you give us examples about the impact, the function and the results of early warning systems on the reduction of the disasters’ risks? What kind of early warning systems could the countries develop?

The power of early warning systems to save lives is undisputed. Indeed, advancements in early warning systems are credited with much of the reduction in disaster mortality in recent decades.

Countries should seek to develop early warning systems that are multi-hazard, meaning they guard against a number of potential hazards, that are "people-centered", meaning they take into account the needs and risks of different communities, and that are "end-to-end", meaning they cover everyone at risk and leave no one behind.

In this way, a successful early warning system correctly identifies an incoming hazard, which in the context of Greece could include tsunamis, earthquakes, and other hazards and risks, and ensures that populations and sectors at risk receive an alert, understand it, and most importantly, act on it.

In terms of regional early warning initiatives in Europe, and as noted in the joint report by UNDRR and WMO on the 'Global Status of Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems -Target G' - Meteoalarm provides alerts in the Europe region to prepare for the impacts of extreme weather events such as "heavy rain with risk of flooding, severe thunderstorms, gale-force winds, heat waves, forest fires, fog, snow or extreme cold with blizzards and avalanches, or severe coastal tides". Also, the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) sends out notifications to national and regional authorities to prepare for possible flood emergencies.

Probabilistic, medium-range flood forecasts, flash-flood forecasts and impact forecasts are some of the services provided by the EFAS. More than 200 flood notifications and 500 flash-flood notifications are sent out per year by the EFAS.

A recent study that we published with WMO on the Global Status of Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems shows that countries with strong early warning systems, have on average a disaster mortality rate that is 8 times lower than countries that do not.

And in terms of economic losses, another report shows that just 24 hours warning of a coming storm or heat wave can cut the ensuing damage by 30 percent.

Despite these benefits, only half of the countries of the world have in place an early warning system to guard against multiple hazards.

That is why the UN Secretary-General has is calling on every person on Earth to be protected by an early warning system in the next 5 years.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (Sendai Framework) was the first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda. How have the countries responded to it? Is there any progress in terms of goals that the countries have achieved?

While we have witnessed significant progress in efforts to reduce disaster risks around the world, there is still much that needs to be done to meet the goal and targets of the Sendai Framework.

Disaster risk governance and understanding of risk are being strengthened, supported by advancements in technology, modelling and tools for multi-hazard risk assessment and early warning. The engagement of stakeholders is growing through the participation of the private sector, civil society, academic and research institutions and the scientific community at all levels.

However, the pace of action is not fast enough. The number of disaster events is rising just as ecosystems are at risk of collapse and fiscal space is stretched to its limits in many countries. Current societal, political and economic choices are not in line with the commitments to reduce risk.

UN member states and DRR stakeholders are contributing to the global Midterm Review of the implementation of the Sendai Framework, which will culminate in May 2023. The results of the review will provide tangible evidence of progress on Sendai Framework implementation to date, along with recommendations for accelerating implementation until 2030.

According to the latest  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the East and the southeast Mediterranean countries (among them Greece) are the hotspot of climate change. The report warns that the region will be hit by even fiercer heatwaves, droughts and wildfires. In your opinion, how is Greece handling the situation so far, as we come across mega-fires and wildfires every year? What is required to better cope with the consequences of such natural disasters?

Recent IPCC reports pointed out that global warming may increase by 1.5 ° C by the early 2030s, much earlier than predicted. Climate change is rapidly altering the risk profile of the planet, magnifying the magnitude, frequency, and severity of disasters. The IPCC reports have also identified the Eastern Mediterranean region as a climate change "hotspot", indicating that it will experience warming that is 20% higher than average.

Greece, along with other countries in the Mediterranean region, has felt the devastating impacts of climate change over the last summers including through extreme temperatures and heatwaves, which have caused areas burnt by wildfires in 2022 to be four times greater than the 2006-2021 average, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.

Greece also experienced one of the deadliest wildfires recorded this century in Mati in 2018, with over 100 victims.

Furthermore, recent studies by the National Observatory of Athens, the Bank of Greece's Climate Change Impacts Study Committee and universities suggest that the number of heatwave days with temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius in the region of Attica (entailing Athens) will increase by 10-20 days in 2031-50, and 35-40 days in the period 2071-2100.

Greece has shown leadership in addressing the challenges posed by climate change by the establishment of the dedicated Ministry for Climate Crisis and Civil Protection and on heat and wildfire management specifically. This includes:

  • Piloting this year the European Commission’s plan for the pre-deployment of 250 European forest fire fighters in Greece to combat expected fires under the European Civil Protection Mechanism.
  • Investing 72 million euros in wildfire prevention through the Antinero programme.
  • This is in addition to hosting a regional meeting on heat and wildfire risks and to accelerate implementation of the EFDRR Roadmap.

Greek cities are also showing their leadership on the local resilience agenda, including through the appointment of Europe’s first chief heat officer in Athens, and innovations, such as a mobile application and messaging service providing measures to protect people from heat risks in the city.

UNDRR continues to engage Greek cities and networks through the Making Cities Resilient 2030 initiative, supporting peer learning on local resilience building.

Coping with the increasingly frequent and intensified impacts of climate changes will require integration of approaches to climate change mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk reduction across sectors, coupled with greater risk-informed investments, and strengthened coordination of existing structures, including EFDRR, DPPI-SEE, and National Platforms.

On November 6th, COP27 will be held in Egypt. What are your expectations of COP27? What are its main goals, and, in your opinion, how do EU member-states react to the increasing challenges of climate crisis?

As iterated by the UN Secretary General, COP27 is "the number one litmus test" of how seriously governments take the growing climate toll on the most vulnerable countries.

Current pledges and policies are off target for the 1.5 ° C goal and the need for urgent climate action cannot be overstated.

Countries must lower emissions to reduce future disaster risks. At the same time, developed countries must increase funding for disaster risk reduction by honoring commitments made to increase adaptation funding. Creating a Zero Climate Disasters world is possible if the most climate-vulnerable countries get that funding now to implement the Sendai Framework and stop the rise of larger and more expensive disasters.

UNDRR’s engagement in COP27 aims to promote accelerated action to reduce climate related disaster risks through:

  • Scaling up integrated planning through comprehensive disaster and climate risk management at national and local levels.
  • Advocating for increased technical assistance to countries to avert, minimize and address losses and damages.
  • Increasing predictable and sustainable financing for risk-informed adaptation and to de-risk all investments.
  • Strengthening and amplifying inclusiveness and stakeholder inclusion in climate action.

The impacts of climate change, coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 response and recovery, rapid inflation, and the wide-ranging impacts of the war in Ukraine - including on energy provision, migration, and food security - are adding to the complex risk landscape faced by countries in the European Union and beyond. It is critical that in addressing these systemic risks, countries do not backtrack on existing commitments, and continue to work together through existing mechanisms to develop approaches to managing all risks in a comprehensive manner.

Responding to the climate crisis cannot wait, which is why we encourage all members of the EU, as well as other UN member states, to take ambitious steps to strengthen and support climate action and the implementation of the targets set in the Sendai Framework, Paris Agreement and overall Agenda 2030, across national and global levels. 

Please note: Content is displayed as last posted by a PreventionWeb community member or editor. The views expressed therein are not necessarily those of UNDRR, PreventionWeb, or its sponsors. See our terms of use

Is this page useful?

Yes No Report an issue on this page

Thank you. If you have 2 minutes, we would benefit from additional feedback (link opens in a new window).