Since the start of the International Decade for Natural Disaster
Reduction in 1989, the world has seen great progress in reducing
disaster losses. Most notably, in the area of reducing disaster-related
mortality. Many of these advances were a result of changes in how
countries approach and govern disaster risks, which in turn were
spurred by lessons learned from devastating disasters that challenged
old ways of thinking.
The world now stands at a similar crossroad as a result of COVID-19.
This pandemic’s prolonged and far-reaching impact on all aspects of
life is causing countries and organizations to reassess how to best
manage complex risk.
“Considering these profound changes, it is only right that we use the
occasion of this year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction
to ask hard questions about our capacity to manage risk,” said Ms. Mami
Mizutori, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for
Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk
Ms. Mizutori made this point at a webinar organized by the UNDRR
Asia-Pacific Regional Office, titled ‘Disaster Risk Governance in
Context of COVID-19.’
Held in part to commemorate the International Day for Disaster Risk
Reduction, the webinar was attended by 641 participants and featured
a diverse panel with representation from national governments, the
UN system, and civil society.
Elaborating on Ms. Miztuori’s point, the host of the webinar, Mr. Animesh
Kumar, Officer-in-Charge and Deputy Chief of UNDRR Asia-Pacific, said:
“COVID-19 has demonstrated that a narrow focus on a small set of hazards,
by one or two government agencies, is not enough to prevent or even respond
to complex disaster risks. All of this points to the simple question
– why, despite knowing more, we are not doing better?”
For national disaster management agencies, which are at the frontlines
of disaster risk reduction efforts, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused them
to reassess their current risk governance approaches with an eye towards
building on the lessons gained thus far.
“The pandemic has raised new questions about the legislative arrangements
we have for disaster risk management,” said Mr. Kamal Kishore, Member of
India’s National Disaster Management Authority, adding:
“We are going from managing risks, to how do we manage uncertainties.
Classically, we know what we are dealing with, but with the pandemic,
there are many unknowns… we have to become comfortable with uncertainty
and come up with governance mechanisms that make the best possible
decisions even in a highly uncertain environment.”
The island nation of Fiji, which was one of the first countries to be
impacted by a major cyclone while dealing with the pandemic, is similarly
looking at how it can strengthen its risk governance mechanisms through
legislative changes, noting many countries in the Pacific are considering
“We have had a few discussions with heads of Pacific NDMOs on the need
to strengthen our legal frameworks to ensure that we embrace the new normal,
in this case, pandemics occurring with disasters as well,” said Ms. Vasiti
Soko, the Director of Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office.
One of the key reasons why countries were not better prepared for COVID-19
was offered by Mr. Christophe Bahuet, UNDP's Deputy Regional Director for
Asia and the Pacific, whose office recently published a study titled
“Recovering from COVID-19: Lessons from Past Disasters in Asia and the
“There is an imperative need to include pandemic response and preparedness
in countries’ legal, regulatory and policy frameworks. The striking thing
here is that for years we've been warned that a pandemic could happen, and
yet very few countries, if any, included it in their plans, but hopefully
now, many will,” said Mr. Bahuet.
This point was supported by the results of a review of disaster risk governance
mechanisms in Asia-Pacific conducted by UNDRR Asia-Pacific, according to
their Risk Knowledge and Analysis Officer, Ms. Iria Touzon Calle, who said:
“Risk governance requires multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder approaches
that go beyond the role national disaster management agencies and there
is a need to elevate the role of planning and finance ministries in risk
governance to foster this multi-sectoral responsibility.”
As part of this examination of how risk governance can be strengthened,
it was also highlighted that mitigating the impact of disasters requires
a whole-of-society approach that includes all relevant actors, including
civil society organizations (CSOs).
“CSOs can strengthen the capacity of the government and institutions to
recognize and analyze the needs of the poor, the marginalized and vulnerable
sectors,” said Mr. Jerome Balinton, the Humanitarian Manager for Save
the Children Philippines.
Mr. Balinton also called on governments to employ participatory approaches
to ensure CSOs can participate in conducting assessments, implementation,
and monitoring of disaster risk reduction programs.
Without a transformational change in how countries manage their risks,
they risk allowing their development gains to be lost to disasters, thus
falling further behind in the achievement of the Sustainable Development
“The next 10 years are going to be crucial to what the Secretary-General
has called as the Decade of Action, which will determine to what extent
we can achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” said Mr. Kumar,
“We must acknowledge that while COVID-19 has posed significant challenges
to the achievement of the Sendai Framework, the Sendai Framework also
offers solutions to recover from COVID-19 and move the world towards
The deliberations and outputs of the webinar will be incorporated by
the UNDRR Asia-Pacific Office into its soon to be published regional
review, which will offer countries a number of recommendations to
strengthen their risk governance.
United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Asia and Pacific
Provided by the IKCEST Disaster Risk Reduction Knowledge Service System