2019 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction

The 2019 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction was held during 13th -17th May in Geneva, Switzerland. The 5-day conference include 5 high-level dialogue and over 100 parallel sessions, which attracted thousands of researchers, policy-makers and other stakeholders from private sectors and NGOs worldwide.

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Jun 05, 2019

The theme for this year turns to be in line with those from past years, which again aims to figure out strategies to mitigating disaster risks and reducing disaster induced damages and losses in a changing climate. This year, the conference was framed in the context of the Sendai Framework. The Sendai Framework is a 15-year voluntary and non-binding agreement across the global countries that emphasize the importance of not only national government and national participation but also the participation of other stakeholders, including those from private sectors, local authorities or communities. The Sendai Framework proposes seven primary global targets. Most of them refer to the substantial reduction in disaster induced health impacts, economic losses and physical damages to infrastructure. At the same time, it highlights the crucial role of local-national and developing-developed country collaboration. It also aims to facilitate the access to multi-hazard early warning system by 2030. Further, at the practical level, it specifies four priorities for action, including understanding disaster risk, strengthening governance and management, investment for resilience building, and better prepared for response, rehabilitation and reconstruction.


I attended most of the high-level dialogue sessions and selectively attended some interesting parallel sessions, which are quite insightful for us in terms of the recent research focus in the field of disaster risk reduction, as well as the potential for commissioned contents at Nature Communications. Overall, the conference this year contains four key words, Technology, Inclusion, Collaboration and Resilience, which are all aligned with the targets in the Sendai Framework.

In terms of Technology, private sectors have been actively engaged in disaster risk reduction through technological innovation, targeting pre-, during- and post-disaster preparedness, response and reconstruction, respectively. They all lead a great effort here. For example, DRAS (Disaster Risk Analysis System) is a data sharing system for both decision makers and citizens. It has by far included the fine-resolution data on floods, earthquakes and landslides for 12 cities in Bosnia and Hercegovina. iDRRHoT (inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction Hands-on Tools) is an app based on Progressive Web App platform. It aims to provide disaster response action plan for different vulnerability groups, such as the access to emergency shelters and the access to water resources during disaster aftermath. Also, mHS City Lab introduced RCL Cloud digital tools, which provide housing reconstruction information required by low-income groups. All these efforts contribute nicely to the seven targets and four priorities in Sendai Framework.

In terms of Inclusion, the role of women and the youth has been reemphasized for several times. In the session ‘Women leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)’, Laura Tuck, from Sustainable Development Global Practice at World Bank, urges that each investment for DRR should identify the group of women that are most disadvantaged and most affected by the disastrous events. Considering the important role of women, she suggests that gender strategy has been incorporated in the environmental and social framework at World Bank. They have also worked with national governments to develop a set o gender gap index. Miniata Samate Cessouma from African Union agrees that participation of women is important in decision making and policy design and therefore, at African Union, almost 50% of the positions are held by women. She also suggests that during disaster risk reduction, ensuring the equal access to resources and education will minimize their greater vulnerability while maximize the knowledge about disaster risk. Saber Hossain Chowdhury, Hon from Inter-Parliamentary Union emphasizes that rather than focus exclusively on disaster risk reduction, to ensure women empowerment would require considering to improve their leadership through different facets, such as voting, political context, family and labour markets.

Another session looking at inclusion is called ‘Building resilience for all: Intersectional approach’. Intersectional approach is an approach to understanding intra-group difference and the existence of multiple axes of identity that govern an individual’s or group’s relationship to power. Despite its early use in political science, it has now been applied to study the various disaster vulnerabilities across different socio-economic or demographical groups. Gachut, a researcher in Kenya, applied this method to study the different vulnerabilities across groups by considering two main variables, gender and political power. They also conducted the research using qualitative methods, such as household survey, focused group interview and key person interviews. She highlights the gender inequalities in terms of the variability in access to resources, such as aid, water, food. Another researcher, Prof. Asha Hans, who is now the co-chair at Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy and used to be a professor in Political Science at Utkal University in India, conducted a research looking at 17 countries during 7 years and the different vulnerabilities of socio-economic groups towards various disaster types. Apart from reemphasizing the disadvantaged role of women in India, she also points out the invisibility and lack of mobility for mentally disordered people are easily ignored, which is actually gaining greater importance because mental disorder has been more prevalent nowadays. Some people from Save Child, a NGO from UK on the other hand, points out the role of children disaster risk reduction. Surprisingly, they identified that access to continuous education is the top consideration for most children during disaster aftermath. Overall, justice and inequality seem to be the core for the term ‘inclusion’ and they also said it in an alternative way as ‘Leaving no one behind.’


Another session that I think is also relevant for the term ‘inclusion’ here is the discussion on how indigenous knowledge can contribute to the Sendai Framework. This one was interesting for me and it well reminds me about a commentary we received several month ago, which was on indigenous knowledge and its role in modern marine ecosystem management. I was quite surprised when I see more researchers start looking at more traditional community-level knowledge and how they can adapt and contribute to modern phenomenon. Dr. Ciro Ugarte, the Director at PAHO Health Emergencies Department under WHO, introduced his research among 20 delegates from 10 indigenous counties and asked them about the strategies they used for DRR. They also employed a novel approach called Parallel Scenario Method. They picked up terms from DRR and Sendai Framework and asked both the indigenous delegates and modern scientists regarding their perceived meaning and understanding. They then compared between traditional and modern knowledges toward the same terms. They urge the consideration of Indigenous knowledges in setting DRR strategies due to the potential mutual benefits between modern science and indigenous knowledge. On the one hand, indigenous knowledges may complement the modern science for DRR and on the other hand, modern science helps expand the knowledge for indigenous communities.


Several potential commission opportunities emerge here. First, I have done a quick literature search regarding the different disaster vulnerability across different social groups and noticed that while the disadvantaged role of women in disaster risk has been extensively discussed, the role of mentally disordered people has hardly been mentioned. It can be seem from Nature Climate Change or Nature Sustainability, we received more papers looking at mental health than before, indicating the growing importance of the field. Therefore, it might be worthwhile to pursuing on piece (Comment) on vulnerability of mentally disordered people in disaster risk reduction and resilience building. I am also curious about whether there are research looking at different vulnerability of a same group of people towards different disaster types, such as floods, hurricane or earthquakes. This could be meaning for some local governments in pay particular attention for a disaster type for a specific group of people. I will think about this topic further. I also flagged the comment we received on indigenous knowledge in marine ecosystem management to Dr. Ugarte and showed him our interests in seeing how different knowledge from indigenous communities can be matched and then contribute to different targets in the Sendai Framework. As 2019 is the International Year for Indigenous languages, I think it could be a great time for us to have something coming out on indigenous knowledge.


Regarding the collaboration, it is interesting to see that apart from simulating the collaboration between local and national authorities, this year, the collaboration between private and public sectors in private and public investment has been also highlighted. Focusing on this, it is urgent to facilitate more risk-informed investments. Satellite technologies appear to be one of the important tools to informing the disaster risks in this aspect. Dr. Hirosho Yamakawa, the president at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency suggests that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was born through the merger of three institutions, namely the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL) and the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA). It was designated as a core performance agency to support the Japanese government's overall aerospace development and utilization. JAXA, therefore, can conduct integrated operations from basic research and development, to utilization. Regarding the role of satellite data for disaster risk reduction, he further suggests that space based technologies have been integrated in Sendai framework. JAXA generated the high-resolution damage photos that contribute to 76 countries and regions. It also stimulates collaborations between disaster management authorities and space agencies. He also shared an interesting view on the evolving role of satellite technologies in DDR from response oriented to preparedness, recovery and reconstruction.

Overall, the 2019 Global Platform for DRR not only further alarms the rising risk for future extreme weather events with increasing frequency and intensity, but also, it rebuilds the confidence among global population in the face of these extremes through greater levels of inclusion, justice, equality and multi-level engagement and collaboration.

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Yang Xia

Associate editor, Nature Communications

I had my BS in economics, MS in sustainability, both from the University of Leeds, and a doctorate in ecological economics from the University of East Anglia, where my research interest lies in assessment of the socioeconomic impacts of health outcomes resulting from disasters such as heat-waves and air pollution. I'm now handling manuscripts on socio-economics, climate-related health risks, climate policy and sustainability.

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