Disaster risk reduction in Asia: a view from the Ministerial Conference

5 July 2018
Insight
Thousands of Rohingya refugees at risk from monsoon landslides in Bangladesh. Photo: UNHCR/Adam Dean

In his opening address to the 8th Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), Mongolian Prime Minister Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh told us that reducing disaster impacts is in the interest of ‘regional security and sustainable development’.

But security, along with violence, conflict, fragility – or even peace – are words I haven’t heard much at this biennial conference; nor do they feature in the Ulaanbaatar Declaration (or indeed any of the previous official declarations produced at the AMCDRR). This is despite the fact that more than half of all climate-related disaster deaths in Asia between 1997 and 2016 occurred in the region’s four most fragile countries.

More than half of all climate-related disaster deaths in Asia between 1997 and 2016 occurred in the region’s four most fragile countries.

Here in Ulaanbaatar, governments, private sector and civil society have just committed to continue striving to reduce disaster impacts across the region through delivery of the Asia Regional Plan for Implementation of the Sendai Framework.

They particularly emphasised ‘localisation’: since disaster impacts are felt at the local level, individuals should be supported to determine how disaster risk is managed. Disaster displacement has been a key focus, with delegates raising the profile of the Rohingya ‘crisis within a crisis’ as floods inundate the refugee camps of conflict-displaced populations.

As expected, I’ve also heard most governments commit to implement local and national DRR strategies by 2020, which is Target E of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. But achieving Target E in the spirit of ‘leave no one behind’ requires a closer look at the fragile countries that are lagging behind.

Why disaster risk reduction shouldn't neglect conflict

The saying ‘disasters do not discriminate’ is false. Disaster risk is the product of a hazard, exposure to that hazard, vulnerability, and coping capacity (or lack of it). The conditions in which people live clearly determine their vulnerabilities and coping capacity, which can be severely undermined by conditions of violence, conflict and fragility.

The saying ‘disasters do not discriminate’ is false.

As I argue in a new ODI report, conflict needs to be part of the conversation about how disaster risk can be reduced – and it needs to be included in the Asia Regional Plan. Sub-national conflict, for example, remains the most common form of conflict in Asia yet there is no tailored support for governments to help work out how to devise, deliver and monitor local disaster risk reduction strategies in these challenging contexts.

DRR and conflict in Afghanistan

Take Afghanistan. At the AMCDRR, the Afghan government acknowledged the ‘social, economic and even political and security consequences’ of poverty and mass migration to urban areas. Meanwhile armed conflict in the country has disrupted efforts by non-governmental organisations to support communities to manage hazards. Prolonged drought between 2006 and 2007 has led to youth joining armed groups. Years of conflict have destroyed irrigation systems, leaving today a total of 1.4 million people food insecure.

But while integrating disaster risk reduction into domestic budgets will be essential to achieving sustainable financing mechanisms for managing disaster impacts, the international community needs to rethink the way it provides financial support. Because in Afghanistan for example, for every $100 spent on emergency response (between 1997 and 2016) from official development assistance, only $2.24 was spent on disaster prevention and preparedness.

Moving forward to the Africa – Arab Ministerial Conference

Supporting the most vulnerable to reduce disaster impacts means getting to grips with what implementing DRR in fragile and conflict-affected contexts should look like. The scientific community needs to place greater emphasis on the relationship between vulnerabilities to disaster and to conflict to inform the UN’s 2019 Global Assessment Report on DRR. These insights also need to be used to inform more strategic use of the Sendai Framework Monitor to track progress on disaster risk reduction in conditions of violence, conflict and fragility, and address data gaps which currently hide the true picture of disaster impacts in these areas.

Looking ahead, the next regional gathering will take place in Tunis in October 2018. I urge this Africa-Arab DRR Platform and Ministerial Conference to explicitly discuss the challenge that violence, conflict and fragility present to delivering disaster risk reduction. It should pave the way for tailored support to governments, and pressure for this often-neglected topic to be included on the agenda of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2019.