Development, Environment & energy, Science and technology | Australia, Asia, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, The Pacific

3 November 2016

As a region vulnerable to natural disasters, the Asia-Pacific needs an approach to sustainable development anchored in disaster risk-reduction, Shamshad Akhtar writes.

Nothing erases development gains as suddenly and severely as natural disasters. Earthquakes, floods, droughts and cyclones wreak destruction, not only across borders but across generations, reversing the hard-won progress of many years in poverty reduction, delivery of essential services, promotion of small business, and economic opportunity. Disaster resilience in the Asia-Pacific is mission critical for the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The second session of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) in 2015 called for a regional road map to implement the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Asia and the Pacific. On 3 November, leaders and decision-makers at the Asian Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) will adopt the Asian Regional Plan for Implementation of the Sendai Framework. The adoption of the regional plan will contribute substantially to integrating disaster risk reduction and resilience into plans to achieve the related SDGs in the Asia-Pacific – the most disaster-prone region in the world.

In the last decade, 1,624 disasters took place in Asia-Pacific. Approximately 400,000 people lost their lives, more than 1.4 billion were affected, and more than half a trillion dollars’ worth of economic damage was caused. Last year alone, disasters continued to undermine development gains, with the region accounting for 47 per cent of the world’s 344 natural disasters, reporting over 16,000 fatalities, and incurring more than US $45.1 billion in economic damage, plus even more in indirect losses.

More on this: Putting people power into disaster response

Strengthening the resilience of countries to disasters underpins all sustainable development activities, especially those involving critical sectors such as infrastructure. As a result of rapid development across the Asia-Pacific, infrastructure is increasingly exposed to the impacts of disasters; the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, for example, caused damage and loss equivalent to approximately one-third of the country’s GDP.

The region has accumulated a vast body of knowledge through generations of experience in using scientific advancement to promote resilient infrastructure. The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)’s newest institution, the Asian and Pacific Centre for Development of Disaster Information Management (APDIM), will be at the forefront of providing capacity development support in disaster information management in the region, serving as an innovative platform to collectively address common regional challenges.

There are opportunities to bridge gaps in knowledge and capacity for disaster risk reduction between the data, technology and capacity-poor and rich countries, through the use of science, technology, and innovation (STI). Despite the immense growth in the access to STI applications in the region, there are still a number of countries – particularly countries with special needs – that do not use these applications.

ESCAP’s Regional Space Applications for Sustainable Development (RESAP) initiative provides an excellent foundation for bridging these gaps. Over the past two decades, RESAP has harnessed the latest scientific advances and provided a platform for space agencies and sectoral stakeholders to access space applications for disaster management and sustainable development. Space-faring countries such as China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam have offered related satellite images, information products, and capacity development training to countries of the region.

More on this: When it comes to disaster risk reduction, a strong science policy is a must

To further encourage this momentum, ESCAP will host the Asia-Pacific Space Leaders Forum during the Asian Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction to mobilize leaders in space and disaster risk management and facilitate a dialogue on the demand and supply of space information products. Space leaders from the RESAP network will discuss opportunities to develop a new Asia-Pacific Plan of Action for Space Applications from 2018 to 2030, and will foster greater discussion on the operational needs of end-users while capitalising on emerging applications from the space community. The discussion and deliberations at the Forum will provide valuable additions to regional efforts in both disaster mitigation and monitoring of implementation of SDG goals in the region.

The nature of disasters in the Asia-Pacific is increasingly complex with extensive cross-border implications. The area shares the world’s two most seismically-active fault lines and three major ocean basins, and holds countless rivers and river basins. Cyclones, floods, and droughts are all climatic events which can and often do cross national boundaries.

The most effective solutions to mitigating these cross-border impacts are regional ones. The ESCAP Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness, for instance, is an excellent example of a financing mechanism that has been set up as a regional public good. Since 2005, it has ensured the development of an integrated regional early warning system for coastal hazards. The ESCAP and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Typhoon Committee, and the WMO/ESCAP Panel on Tropical Cyclones, both assist countries with early warning system products and capacity development services, highlighting the economic benefits of these shared systems.

The magnitude of disaster impacts in our region challenges us to develop a long-term vision of the pillars of disaster resilience, knowing that the investments we make now may come to fruition only years after implementation. Well-coordinated UN support to the region can assure timely and robust implementation of both the Sendai Framework and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. ESCAP is already coordinating the work in this area among United Nations entities through the Regional Coordination Mechanism (RCM). It is also coordinating with regional associations through sharing good practices across regions, and by linking regional initiatives to the 2030 Agenda.

These efforts will translate the global commitments on disaster risk reduction into regional action across the Asia-Pacific, and will anchor disaster risk reduction at the heart of sustainable development.

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Akhtar, Shamshad. 2017. "Preparing Now For Disaster Tomorrow - Policy Forum". Policy Forum.