By Jonathan Fowler
CANCUN, Mexico – A UN-backed group of companies working to curb hazard impacts has unveiled a new plan of action on the eve of the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.
The UNISDR Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies, or ARISE for short, issued its seven-point plan during a business-focused preparatory meeting ahead of Wednesday’s official opening of the Global Platform.
“Disaster risk reduction is not philanthropy. It is not corporate social responsibility. For people who understand this issue, it is core business,” said ARISE co-chair Mr. Robert Glasser, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction. “It is essential for business continuity and for the communities and employees that depend on businesses for their safety and well-being.”
The plan, known as the ARISE Manifesto, is intended to feed into discussions taking place among governments in Cancun, Mexico through to Friday.
“The manifesto draws on the real, on-the-ground experience of the ARISE members of what works and what doesn’t. We believe that it will empower business to play its role to the full,” said Mr. Glasser.
It begins with a call for the “Build Back Better” principle to be etched into planning, development, recovery and reconstruction – from building codes to government tenders and contracts.
Second, it says t is vital to create incentives for businesses to invest in risk reduction and resilience in advance of disaster. That can mean removing legal and other regulatory barriers that prevent such investment or, worse, drive continued low-resilience investment.
Third, it calls for a more integrated approach to upgrading key infrastructure and to give local authorities more say over policy – so that money and other resources can be focused on priority areas.
Fourth, it says that businesses need to be involved before, during and after disaster. The aim is to help to ensure that private resources and expertise are mobilized in support of effective disaster risk management.
Fifth, it argues that businesses and their public sector and civil society partners should promote the benefits of resilience to consumers, and sixth, extend education and professional training. The goal is to drive an increase in public awareness – without which risk reduction and pro-resilience policies will be much less effective.
Finally, it underscores the need to harness the potential of data and technology to ensure effective implementation of resilience and risk reduction measures.
“If countries and companies take up these recommendations together, we will move a step closer to meeting our shared goal of resilience,” said Mr. Glasser.
Annual economic losses from disasters are now running at over US$300 billion, according to UNISDR’s Global Assessment Report. And even that is a conservative estimate, because it only counts damage in the built environment caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones and river flooding.
Urbanization is adding to this risk, by concentrating populations and economic activities.
By 2030, when the Sendai Framework expires, six in every ten people will live in cities. According to World Bank data, urban areas already generate 80% of global GDP.
As population magnets and economic drivers, cities are particularly vulnerable to increasingly frequent and extreme weather hazards such as storms, climate change impacts including water shortages, environmental degradation, and unsafe construction in seismic zones.
When a disaster hits a city, it can also disrupt global supply chains. Disasters therefore pose a major threat to industry and commerce with the potential for cascading disruption of vital industries far from their point of impact.
Some 60% of urban buildings and infrastructure set to be in place by 2030 is still to be constructed. And because 80% of investment decisions are taken by the private sector, risk-informed, resilience-focused approaches are critical.
ARISE was created in November 2015. It aims to leverage business resilience know-how and encourage investment decisions that take disaster risk into account, in order to help the private sector to play its role in implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year agreement adopted by the international community in 2015.
“As the Sendai Framework tells us, disaster risk management is everyone’s business,” said Ms. Estelle Parker, of the Depart of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, a country at the forefront of public-private partnerships to curb risk.
Global Platform host Mexico is also a case in point.
"The private sector in Mexico has taken its reponsbility very seriously about this. We all believe in the importance of having a new way of thinking. I'm happy to say that companies and the government are working together to achieve this," said Mr. Luis Felipe Puente, head of the country's Civil Protection department.
Rising disaster losses are putting severe strain on public finances and, in many countries, acting as a brake on economic and social development. Thus, they pose a threat not only to achieving the aims of the Sendai Framework, but also our global effort to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change.
“Sustainability can’t be achieved without the private sector,” said Dr. V Thiruppugazh, Joint Secretary of the National Disaster Management Authority of India, where three national chambers of commerce and industry are working with the authorities to mitigate and reduce disaster risk.
ARISE is a voluntary group of more than 140 companies and organizations, headquartered in 38 nations and active in 150 countries around the world.
“We need to bring in the people who create the risk. I used to be one of them,” said ARISE board member Mr. Aris Papadopoulos, former chief of construction materials group Titan America and founder of the Resilience Action Fund.
People may question why companies continue to stoke risk.
“It’s because it’s legal, customers are prepared to accept it, and because they can make money from it,” he said, calling for a halt to that mindset.