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UN-NGLS interviews Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, on the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction

arton4555Through UN General Assembly Resolution 66/199, the General Assembly requested the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) to facilitate the development of a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction as the 10-year Hyogo Framework for Action comes to an end in 2015. Below, UN-NGLS interviews Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of UNISDR on preparations for the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction that will take place in Japan in March 2015.

UN-NGLS: The UN General Assembly has highlighted the need for an inclusive approach in preparation for the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, building on good practice established by the Hyogo Framework for Action. During the first Preparatory Committee (PrepCom1) held in Geneva in July, three dialogues were held between the Chair and Major Groups. What were the outcomes of these discussions, and will this multi-stakeholder participatory practice be built upon in the lead up to the World Conference in Japan in March 2015?

Margareta Wahlström: Several Major Groups from civil society were represented at the first PrepCom, including children and youth, women, Indigenous Peoples, farmers, trade unions, scientists and NGOs. We also had strong participation of people living with disabilities. Ever since we began the consultative process for a Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction two years ago, we have held hundreds of consultations around the world. UNISDR has been very pro-active in soliciting input and it has been one of the most inclusive processes ever undertaken by a UN agency. One small example is that last year we ran a survey of people living with disabilities for the International Day for Disaster Reduction and we had some 6,000 replies providing great insight into the challenges faced by this constituency when it comes to disaster risk management. The knowledge, capacities, needs and experiences of civil society are well captured in the initial draft of the Framework and all of these stakeholders have the opportunity to provide us with their feedback before the Second PrepCom in November and to make further recommendations in case anything has been overlooked.

UN-NGLS: Currently, three major frameworks are being discussed and crafted in relation to disaster risk reduction: the post-2015 framework on disaster risk reduction, the Sustainable Development Goals, and climate change. In your opinion, what can be done to ensure policy coherence between these threads and generate opportunities for collaboration and mutual reinforcement across disaster risk reduction and sustainable development mechanisms?

Margareta Wahlström: The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction is following closely all the on-going discussions around the post-2015 development agenda, which provides the opportunity of a life-time to ensure that these three outcomes are mutually reinforcing and deliver the desired end result: a resilient planet capable of providing everyone with a decent standard of living. We see disaster risk reduction as a cross-cutting issue which is an essential contribution to sustainable development. After all, how can human development be sustainable if we continue to suffer enormous economic losses from extensive recurring disasters, such as floods, or the collapse of badly built and poorly located buildings in earthquakes and storms? We see climate change growing in importance when it comes to the severity and unpredictability of extreme weather events. The ultimate goal is a carbon neutral world, but in the meantime, communities will have to live for the foreseeable future with the effects of the changes which have already taken place and which have been so well-documented in the three IPCC Working Group reports. In that sense, climate risk has to be planned for and dealt with, just like any other risk.

UN-NGLS: What are some of your hopes for the Third World Conference? What are some of the greatest challenges you see ahead, from the local to the global, in terms of creating a more resilient planet? Since the Second World Conference, held in 2005, are there new and emerging risks that should now be considered?

Margareta Wahlström: The Hyogo Framework for Action has had ten years to prove its worth since it was adopted at the last World Conference in Kobe following the Indian Ocean tsunami which claimed some 220,000 lives. The Framework has spread a culture of disaster risk reduction around the world, embedding the concepts in legislation, school curricula and disaster management manuals. We have better early warning systems, better disaster preparedness and more knowledge and education at all levels. The result is a decline in mortality linked to weather events; yet at the same time economic losses are escalating dramatically, highlighting the work that needs to be done to convert the private sector to disaster risk management so that a better understanding of economic losses from disasters becomes a normal part of investment analysis and economic decision-making. Some excellent progress was made on this front at the Climate Summit with support for carbon pricing coming from 73 countries and many states and cities – collectively responsible for 54% of global greenhouse emissions and 52% of global gross domestic product (GDP). Over 1,000 businesses and investors have signaled their support. At the same time, UNISDR has launched several initiatives to put disaster risk reduction on the corporate radar. At the Climate Summit I chaired a policy dialogue and one outcome was to examine how climate risk stress testing can be introduced for banking and securities regulation and accounting practices. Risk must be accounted for on the balance sheet. At the heart of this initiative is the one-in-100 year solvency “stress test” developed by the insurance sector to assess its ability to underwrite risks.

UN-NGLS: In the lead up to PrepCom1, a number of regional discussions were held (Africa, 13-16 May; Latin America, 27-29 May; Pacific region, 2-4 June; Asia, 22-26 June; and the Arab region from 14-16 September). Did any regional convergences emerge from these meetings, for example on implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action? Can best practices and lessons learned be shared across the regions? What approaches and strategies could strengthen regional cooperation?

Margareta Wahlström: A common challenge shared across the entire spectrum of the 140 or so countries who have reported on their implementation of the HFA is the implementation of Priority 4, which is focused on addressing the underlying drivers of risk whether these are rapid urbanization, poverty, eco-system decline, climate change, poor land use or bad planning. A clear message from reporting countries is that addressing underlying risk factors and strengthening development investments is more cost-effective than relying on post-disaster response and recovery. DRR is not a cost, but rather a saving in the long term.

Regional platforms have been excellent vehicles for showcasing best practice in implementation of the HFA. So has the Making Cities Resilient Campaign, inspired by the HFA, which now involves over 2,000 cities and towns around the globe from Oslo to Durban and from Hoboken to Honiara. We were delighted to welcome the UK’s second largest conurbation into the campaign a few weeks ago; greater Manchester and its ten boroughs, which is now a role model for total resilience and willing to share its expertise and knowledge with other municipalities across the world.

UN-NGLS: Do you foresee an increase in public private partnerships for managing disaster risk reduction? What safeguards do you envisage to preserve the public interest in such forms of partnership?

Margareta Wahlström: It can only be in the public interest to encourage and develop public-private sector partnerships to manage disaster risk reduction. The private sector was not adequately included in the original HFA but we are making up for that now with the development of a Private Sector Advisory Group, which has some 70 members. The latest edition of our flagship publication the Global Assessment Report is devoted to making the business case for disaster risk reduction. After all, the private sector is responsible for 70% - 85% of investment in most economies, so how this investment is decided has a crucial impact on future disaster risk reduction.

UN-NGLS: While women are seen as a vulnerable group, they are also agents of change in disaster risk reduction. What will it take to ensure that women are involved as leaders in decision-making, budgeting and planning processes about disaster risk reduction at all levels?

Margareta Wahlström: This was a theme of the International Day for Disaster Reduction in 2011, part of our four-year Step Up Campaign which focusses on groups that can be excluded from disaster risk management despite the rich knowledge and experience they have to share. Disaster risk management requires an all-of-society engagement and empowerment. Gender considerations should inform all policies and practices and women’s leadership is to be promoted. We had an excellent debate on this issue at the recent Arab Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and the consensus was that we need less emphasis on vulnerability and more emphasis on empowerment and capacity building.

Margareta Wahlström Special Representative of the Secretary-General For Disaster Risk Reduction

In November 2008, UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of Margareta Wahlström as his first Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction. Ms. Wahlström has extensive experience in both disaster relief operations and disaster risk management, with the United Nations system and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Her broad experience spans conflict and non-conflict emergencies, and addressing long-term issues of sustainable development.

Ms. Wahlström is also the head of UNISDR, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, that is the focal point in the United Nations system for the coordination of disaster reduction. Under the SRSG’s leadership, UNISDR is in charge of supporting the implementation of the “Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters” throughout the world and to facilitate the process of developing a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction.

More information on UNISDR can be found online.

Margareta Wahlström’s previous appointments include:

• Coordinator of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of UN Personnel and Premises, chaired by Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, 2008

• Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2004-2008, and United Nations Special Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance to the Tsunami-Affected Communities, 2004-2005

• Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Relief, Recovery and Rehabilitation, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, 2002-2004

• Under-Secretary-General for Disaster Response and Operations and Deputy Director Operations, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 1995-2000

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.

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