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  • Margareta Wahlström: 'Building the future we want'

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Margareta Wahlström: 'Building the future we want'

Source(s):  United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)

Geneva - In the lead-up to Rio+20, I have visited countless communities and spoken to hundreds of people. From mayors in Mexico, to families living in temporary shelters in the Philippines following Typhoon Sendong, the message has been the same -- people want a better tomorrow, for themselves and for their children.

With Rio+20 now upon us there is much to be positive about. The process leading us here has never before been so open, so inclusive and, with over 60,000 people in Rio and countless thousands following it around the world, so watched.

Whether a community is emerging from a disaster, or living with the daily threat of one, disaster risk reduction is central to their development. Indeed, as the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami illustrated, everyone, no matter how prepared or technologically advanced, is vulnerable to some degree of risk.

It is important to remember that disaster risk reduction is not a new issue within the development discourse. There is much to draw from in terms of how other political processes have incorporated disaster risk reduction. In 1992, Agenda 21 clearly laid-out a path towards sustainable development by calling for a "culture of safety".

This was further advanced in 2002 during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg which called for "an integrated, multi-hazard, inclusive approach to address vulnerability, risk assessment and disaster management".

All this culminated in the 2005 "Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015): Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters" which commits development stakeholders to "substantial reduction of disaster losses, in lives and in the social, economic and environmental assets of communities and countries" and serves as the guiding document in strengthening and building international cooperation to ensure that disaster risk reduction is used as a foundation for sound national and international development policy.

The challenge, therefore, is moving from these compelling words to tangible and life-changing actions.

The Rio+20 conference sets the stage for what many believe to be one of the most crucial global agreements of our time -- a new sustainable development framework. Negotiations leading-up to Rio identified disaster risk reduction and building resilience as critical factor for accelerating sustainable development.

With the world facing more frequent and intense disaster events, the risk of losing hard-fought develop gains is increasing. The risk of losing wealth in weather-related disasters is now outstripping the rate at which the wealth itself is being created, we can clearly say that preparing for, and coping with, disasters are no longer enough. If we are to build a sustainable future, addressing the underlying risks and accounting for disaster losses needs to be firmly integrated into our development agenda.

In addition to climate change, the main drivers for the accumulation of risk are poorly planned and managed urbanization, environmental degradation, poverty and weak governance. By addressing these development challenges, disaster vulnerability is reduced as a direct product of sound development.

Disaster risk reduction cuts across the different facets of sustainable development. Reducing risks can minimize potential setbacks to a country's economic growth caused by disaster-related interruptions in production and economic activity. Economic gains and investments will be protected, enabling continuous employment and income for people. Factoring disaster risk reduction into public and private investment decisions and development plans directly addresses critical risk drivers and prevents potential disaster-related losses and costs. This ensures the quality and sustainability of both private and public investment spending.

Reducing economic losses from disasters also generates substantial returns for social development. Risk reduction not only saves lives but contributes to alleviating poverty by protecting livelihoods and assets and delivering social equity. With poor people and communities suffering the most from the aftermath of disasters, response and recovery efforts need to move beyond provision of immediate needs to ensuring that the vulnerabilities of these people from disasters are reduced. Incorporating resilience thinking into sustainable development planning will better prepare societies to mitigate, prepare for and respond to disasters.

Sustainable environmental management goes a long way in reducing vulnerability to disaster risks. Ecosystems play an important role as a natural protective barrier and buffer against extreme hazards and at the same time a good source of livelihood. The global decline in many ecosystem services contributes to increasing hazards for poor urban and rural households as well as declining livelihood resilience. From this perspective, ecosystem management is an emerging practice that can potentially contribute both to the regulation of weather-related hazards, as well as to the strengthening of livelihoods.

The question is not so much what type of future we want, but rather how we attain it.

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  • Publication date 18 Jun 2012

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