A beautiful cold crisp morning greeted us today in Sendai. Staying about 20mins walk from the conference centre is great, it allows you to think going to and from. I try to take different streets to mix it up a bit. Sendai is a town that has clearly been rebuilt time and time again, there is not much to look at, but plenty to feel.
The first event of the day I attended was the announcement by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent that it was aiming to encourage 1 Billion people worldwide to take steps towards being more resilient to disasters over the next decade. I figured I’d better attend, as this is my job. It is a voluntary commitment, of which the detail will be further developed over the course of the year. It’s a big number. Very big number. I am in two minds about it. One side is, without clear objectives and outputs and indicators designed, it could be meaningless. But on the other side, it’s a very big number, and a challenge, and maybe we need to extend ourselves out of just doing business as usual. Some of the stuff that I hear today frightens me. We need to do more.
A session on mega disaster I have to say was neither here nor there despite the massive audience, I felt the speakers didn’t really touch on anything new. I was pleased that a representative from the Iranian delegation pleaded for people not to forget psycho-social support. But nobody talked about gender issues, or poverty or people with a disability.
But then I went to the Global Assessment Report session. Sensational. Andrew Masky from the UNISDR outlined the report. It is worth a read. Really. One of the things about the report that impressed me was the attempt to quantify the impact of disasters not in dollar terms, but in terms of years of life lost. They have developed an indicator based on mortality + injury+ impact and monetary damage and translated that to years of life lost. While I am not sure if it really captures all of the issues, this is important as it enables us to start expressing what many of us have been feeling. Rob Gordon talks about people losing half a decade to a decade of their lives. This becomes a more tangible and practical way of expressing impact. No longer will it be a cricket score of lives lost or abstract dollar numbers, if you tell me this is going to take 2,3 10 years off my life, I will start to stand up and listen. Or you can tell treasury that people will lose a decade of productivity, which might mean they are a financial burden on society etc.
Maskry talked about our accumulation of risk, likening it to being able to cope with the hangover, but we just keep drinking. Risk is also an opportunity cost for development, however it is mispriced, and we are still seeing poor investment decisions. There is $314 Billion lost annually in infrastructure alone. Our other challenge as we become more urbanised, more stress is placed on local government to take the lead and respond to the risk challenges. But many of the challenges will require state, national and international funding to respond to.
We are also consuming more. Basically we are consuming the resources of 1.5 planets. AS he said, last time he looked, we only have one planet, and wasn’t sure where the other half a planet was coming from.
Alan Lovell, an academic from central America outlined a number of interesting things, the most poignant was the recognition that by separating disaster risk reduction from other risks, we have created an “other”, with its own language and set of measurements. This is one the things I have been saying for years now, that by separating it out, people think it is something that someone else will sort out and I don’t have to do anything about it. He also said something that struck a real chord with me, that are conceptual development about disaster risk reduction is advanced but it is not supported by the empirical evidence. I feel this a lot, we do a lot of things because it feels right
The last session I went to was the role of disaster risk reduction in poverty. Helen Clark in her typically blunt way said poor people don’t have the resources to prepare, to escape or withstand the impacts of disaster. The money spent on recovery could be better spent on achieving development goals. She mentioned that the Haiti earthquake set back the eradication of poverty by a decade. What I think was also important was she said that it was not only those in poverty who slip further behind, but also those who may have been managing, as a result of the disaster, slip into poverty. This is a challenge that we face with our targeting of our work.
She said that disaster risk reduction must e incorporated into all programming. It is a development activity and must not be treated separately.
The second of the impressive speakers in this session was Amina Mohammed, the Special Adviser to the Secretary General on Post 2015 Development. The most poignant thing that stayed with me fro her presentation was she said we are the first generation to have both the knowledge and the resources to deal with climate change, development and disaster risk reduction. We are also the last generation to do something about these challenges before it is too late.
You gotta love a presentation that starts with a chant and a fist in the air, this is what Veronica Katulushi from the Zambian Homelessness federation did. Breathed a breath of fresh air into these proceedings.
I ran into Tia from the Queensland SES again in the foyer at the end of the day. I looked at her, and Mitchell and Maddie from NSW SES who I met earlier in the day, and thought these guys are really going to have to deal with some shit. I think they are up to it though.
This is the remarkable trumpeter Toshinori Kondo,