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We can stop disaster risk spiralling out of control


Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)

17 May 2023

Mami Mizutori is Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), one of ICMIF’s partner organisations. In November 2019, ICMIF and UNDRR began a multi-year collaboration to help address the urgent challenge of reducing disaster risks. This work, with collaboration from our members, is identifying and disseminating what is needed in practical terms to enable a shift within the insurance industry from a focus on providing risk transfer products and services as a means to protect the insured from disaster risks, to an emphasis on prevention through disaster risk reduction incentives, awareness, capacity and financing.

We are delighted to share this article by Mami as a guest blog for the benefit of ICMIF members. The article was originally published by Context during the week of the high-level meeting on the Midterm Review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, organised by UNDRR and which ICMIF will participate in.

Greater efforts to limit death and destruction from disasters will help us protect development progress and adapt to climate change.

Smashing homes and health facilities, while wiping out crops and flooding widespread areas, Cyclone Freddy, which hit southeast Africa in February and March of this year, was a preview into the future. In the worst-affected areas, people were using their bare hands to dig through rubble and mud, searching for survivors.

We are not reducing planet-heating emissions fast enough to stop climate change – and now we are faced with the daunting task of preparing for worst-case scenarios of increasingly extreme weather events.

To understand where the world stands in preventing such events from becoming disasters, the UN General Assembly mandated the midterm review of the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a key international agreement adopted in 2015 by 187 countries to reduce disaster losses by the year 2030.

Eight years into its implementation, many of the past disaster lessons seem to have been ignored and, as a report on the findings of the midterm review states, “progress has stalled and, in some cases, reversed.”

For example, while more and more countries have adopted national disaster risk reduction strategies, half of the world remains without early warning systems.

Intersecting crises

According to the report, there has been an 80% increase in the number of people affected by disasters since 2015.

While the number of people affected was rising, disasters were becoming more complex and more expensive too, with an average above USD 520 billion per year between 2015 and 2021, which is estimated to be significantly undervalued. At the same time, there has been no commensurate increase in funding for disaster risk reduction.

The Midterm Review points to a rapid accumulation of disaster risk that is building up and intersecting with other crises, such as increasing conflicts, growing poverty and deteriorating ecosystems.

In other words: disaster risk is spiralling out of control.

And as the world’s societies, technologies and environments have become hyperconnected, disasters can spread quickly and widely.

The COVID-19 pandemic began as a local outbreak in 2019 but spread around the world to kill 6.5 million people by the end of 2022 and send shockwaves through the global economy. Flooding in Pakistan last year affected more than 33 million people and damaged 4.4 million acres of agricultural land, an area the same size as the nation of Kuwait. This severely impacted food security and put increasing pressure on global agricultural markets.

These disasters tend to hit developing countries hardest. These are the countries that have contributed the least to creating the climate crisis and have the weakest defences and least resources for adaptation.

Progress on preparedness

There are areas of progress, including on data quality and analysis, and how countries are organising themselves to adopt a prevention-oriented approach through national disaster risk reduction strategies. To date, 125 countries have reported developing such strategies. These support the development of strong and inclusive governance systems to manage disaster risk and their potential to cause a cascade of dangerous effects.

And there are examples to learn from. Costa Rica’s legislation allows for all institutions to allocate budgets for prevention and emergency response.

Australia’s Disaster Ready Fund invests up to AUD 200 million per year from 2023-2024 in disaster prevention and resilience initiatives. Barbados’ sovereign debt disaster clauses allow for an immediate debt moratorium in the event of an economic impact caused by a disaster.

Disaster preparedness has also advanced and is now more effective in saving lives. This is reflected in a decline in disaster-related mortality (barring the impact of COVID-19) from 1.77 per 100,000 global population in the decade 2005-2014 to 0.84 in the decade 2012-2021. A safer world is achievable. If countries invest the resources to understand and reduce risks, disasters can be prevented.

UN meeting

The challenge now is to accelerate progress to meet the scale of the challenge. The report captures several recommendations, which will be discussed over two days on 18-19 May, at a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York. The recommendations include:

Make all of government – from finance and planning to agriculture and energy – account for the real costs of disaster risks and incentivise prevention, moving away from single entity responsibility.
Value resilience in our global financial system, including by addressing short-termism and market failures which neglect to factor disaster risks into investments.

Guarantee the rights of all people to access disaster risk information and to participate in decision-making. Empowering women, persons with disabilities and Indigenous Peoples is crucial to counter deepening inequalities and diminishing civic spaces, which are increasing vulnerability and driving up humanitarian needs. Preventing disasters is a shared responsibility and right.

If we can limit the death and destruction from disasters, then we will be able to protect global progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and adapt to our changing climate. If not, as we saw with Cyclone Freddy, a lot of progress could come undone.

Last year, at its Centenary Conference held in Rome (Italy), ICMIF launched the ICMIF Resiliency Benchmark which builds on the work set out from the Federation’s partnership with UNDRR to embed disaster risk reduction in mutual and cooperative insurance.

Since 2022, ICMIF has been working with members to develop the ICMIF Resilience Benchmark Survey to gather case studies and data to benchmark members against themselves the seven mechanisms framework*. We are now looking for ICMIF members to join the programme and work towards benchmarking their own disaster risk reduction activities.

This is an exciting opportunity to review current business practices and engage with other ICMIF members and learn from their triumphs and best practice. For more information and to register your interest, please contact Liam Carter, Senior Vice-President – Sustainability, ICMIF.

Our thanks to Context, the media platform from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, for their kind permission to reproduce this article.

* From protection to prevention: The role of cooperative and mutual insurance in disaster risk reduction report (ICMIF/UNDRR)

For member-only strategic content on the cooperative/mutual insurance sector, ICMIF members have exclusive access to a range of online resources through the ICMIF Knowledge Hub 

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