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Rich Nations Criticized Following UN Disaster Risk Agreement

  • Henry Ridgwell

Delegates meeting in Japan have agreed on a new framework for reducing the human and economic toll of disasters around the world. But critics say rich countries are shirking their responsibilities to help poorer nations deal with climate change.

A mammoth session of talks involving delegations from more than 180 countries ended late Wednesday, with a new Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The United Nations Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlstrom announced the new 15-year plan.

“It requires that citizens have access to risk information and can make choices about risk. We will also focus on the quality of institutions and institutional arrangements, coordination," she said. "A strong part of the priority is on the resilience of people."

A key in the agreement is seven targets for measuring progress on disaster risk reduction. In the past decade the United Nations estimates that 700,000 people have died in natural disasters, with losses topping $1.3 trillion.

Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 was one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded. It killed several thousand people in the Philippines and left millions homeless.

At the Sendai conference, Filipino Senator Loren B. Lagarda argued for far greater global investment in risk reduction.

“I believe if this was utilized and communicated and made accessible to the smallest political unit in the quickest and swiftest possible time, then perhaps the more than 8,000 deaths, the billions of dollars needed for reconstruction and recovery would not have to be this way," he said.

But only Japan has offered money towards disaster risk reduction, pledging $4 billion during the next four years.

"Japan wants to promote the streamlining of disaster risk reduction to minimize damage. And that would lead to abolishing poverty," said Tokyo’s representative at the conference Minister Eriko Yamatani. "That would also protect vulnerable people. The Sendai conference will mark a true milestone towards that goal."

Non-governmental organizations and charities have criticized the lack of funding from other rich countries, which many argue have caused the CO2 emissions that are driving climate change and more intense tropical storms.

“We were expecting that this particular agreement is going to take a much bigger leap because of the kind of disasters we are facing, the amount of experience we have generated, and the new complexities that we are seeing in terms of climate change, in terms of conflicts, and how we are really looking at our sustainable development," said Harjeet Singh, who is with the charity Action Aid.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described this year as critical for the future of the organization.

World leaders are to discuss finance for development in July in Addis Ababa, a new global development agenda in September in New York and a climate change agreement in December in Paris.