Moving towards a more resilient future: the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction

Sustainability Starts in Sendai’. With a reference to the 2015 UN busy agenda, the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR), hosted by the city of Sendai (Japan) from 14 to 18 March 2015. The conference was aimed at adopting a successor agreement to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) for the 2015-2030 period. Endorsed in 2005 and inspired in its ambitions by the devastating South Asian tsunami, the HFA managed to prompt considerable progress towards a more proactive and holistic approach to disaster risk reduction (DRR). However, it did not succeeded in stopping the raising trend in disasters, with economic losses running up to more than $1.3 trillion, 700 thousand people losing their life, 1.4 million getting injured and 23 million being made homeless during its 10-years implementation period.

The Sendai framework was therefore called to provide enhanced tools to contrast the raising trend in human and economic disaster losses. Its final outcome greatly benefitted from the wide consultation process launched in 2012 by the UNISDR, especially for the resulting focus on local actors and stakeholder groups, and the prominence attributed to women and the private sector as DRR actors. As for its architecture, the framework shows slight differences compared to the previous blueprint. As in the HFA, there is an overarching – though more detailed – expected outcome (“The substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries”), supported by a goal to be pursued in terms of integrated and inclusive measures to reduce hazard exposure and vulnerability and increasing preparedness. While the HFA featured three strategic goals to be made operational by five priorities for action, the Sendai framework rearranges the original priorities into four: (i) understanding disaster risk; (ii) strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk; (iii) investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience; (iv) enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response, and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Besides the restructuring and enhanced content specification, what is really new about the framework is the introduction of seven global targets to enable the assessment of progress in achieving its outcome and goal:

  1. A substantial reduction in global disaster mortality by 2030, aiming to lower average per 100,000 global mortality between 2020-2030 compared to 2005-2015.
  2. A substantial reduction in the number of affected people globally by 2030, aiming to lower the average figure per 100,000 between 2020-2030 compared to 2005-2015.
  3. A reduction in direct disaster economic loss in relation to global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.
  4. A substantial reduction in disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities by 2030.
  5. A substantial increase in the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020.
  6. A substantial enhancement of international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions to implement the framework by 2030.
  7. A substantial increase in the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments by 2030.

However, and despite the attempts to quantitatively define them, the targets remain vague, solely inviting to “substantial” outcomes. The expectations on the Sendai framework to address one of the main shortcomings of the HFA, i.e. the lack on easily measurable outcomes to enhance accountability and advance implementation, was thus eventually disregarded. Room for improvement is nevertheless left by the forthcoming definition of appropriate indicators to complement the targets. As for the content of the targets, the main discussions focused on the topic of international cooperation, embedded in target 6. Compared with the options enclosed in the second draft of the agreement, the final text was considerably watered down and no specification was made on the amount and type of resources (financial, technical, capacity building) to be devoted to developing countries. Finance and technology also turned out to be the main points of divergence between developed and developing countries in the discussion around the means of implementation. The call made by developing countries to have “increased, timely, stable and predictable” financing translated into a softer reference to “adequate, sustainable, and timely resources”. On the side of technology, instead, developing countries were able to avoid references in the guiding principle of the framework to technology transfer on mutually agreed terms (MAT), as it would have placed conditionality on technological transfer. Another disputed issue concerned the acknowledgment of climate change being a driver of disaster risk. Developing countries tried, without succeeding, to introduce reference to the common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) principle, one of the hottest disputes within the UNFCCC negotiations. Similarly to the issue of financing and technology, the discussion around CBDR showed the (unexpected) degree of politicization of the conference, driven by the forthcoming appointments in Addis Ababa, New York and Paris.


This article was first published under ICCG International Climate Policy and Carbon Markets series, issue n.35, accessible in pdf format.

(Image: Day 1 – Opening Ceremony – Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, March 14, 2015. Photo credit: UN ISDR/Flickr)