By Dr. Jessica Thorn

The biannual Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (GPDRR) was hosted by the United National International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in Cancun, Mexico from 22-26 May 2017. As a Mountain Sentinels postdoctoral research fellow, I was fortunate to attend the meeting to understand policy action priorities, build partnerships, and identify gaps in knowledge and practice in disaster risk reduction (DRR). This year’s Global Platform marked the first opportunity for the international community to review global progress towards implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which adopted in Japan in 2015, as an outcome of three years stakeholder consultations and inter-governmental negotiations. Sendai outlines seven ambitious 2030 targets for governments to substantially reduce deaths and economic losses from disasters, limiting damage to infrastructure and disruption to basic services such as health and education, and widening access to early warning systems and disaster-risk information. With more than 5,000 participants including policy makers, researchers, community leaders, private sector, and disaster risk practitioners, the GPDRR is the largest international gathering of stakeholders committed to improve the resilience of socio-ecological systems in the face of mounting human-made and natural hazards worldwide.

Just last year, the Columbia landslide, the Peruvian floods, Ecuadorian earthquakes, and Hurricane Matthew in Haiti caused catastrophic infrastructural damage, deaths and financial losses across the Americas. Concurrently, El Niño and drought affected 60 million people across the African continent, with impacts of health, livelihoods, stocking rates, social unrest and conflict, migration and corruption. Such events highlight the urgent need to create a safer, more equitable, and resilient world that addresses underlying social and economic forces placing human settlements at risk.

The African Union, International Federation of the Red Cross and Partners for Resilience hosted an event on El Nino impacts across Africa and the role of Climate Services

Hot topics of conservation were moving from “commitment to action”, from response to risk prevention, enhancing preparedness and “building back better”. A key priority is establishing and implementing national and local strategies for risk reduction by 2020 and learning from best practices at the community level for integrating climate and disaster risk. It was highlighted that disasters should be approached as a complex interaction of unplanned or unsustainable use of natural resources, demographic change, and extreme meteorological and geological events – and DRR efforts must support the overall achievements of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, including poverty.

Wetlands International, the UN University, Partners for Resilience, and other NGOs hosted a series of events to understand opportunities and barriers for up-scaling ecosystem-based approaches to DRR. There is an increasing recognition of the role ecosystems can play in achieving multiple objectives beyond DRR and climate change mitigation and adaptation, such as health, food security, and development. However, currently there are no indicators or targets for an ecosystem based approach in DRR, thereby limiting the utility of this concept for policy makers. Such organizations are partnering to develop indicators or targets that integrate disciplinary approaches from ecology, planning, humanitarian and other sectors.  Another priority is emphasizing the ways that ecosystem services can be reinstated as priorities in planning. For example, engineers and ecologists need to work closer to optimize natural solutions for coastal defense and erosion control. Calls were made for transdisciplinary research to emphasize the ways that people, particularly urban dwellers, are connected to their environment.

The UN Sasakawa award ceremony for DRR is awarded to an individual or institutions that have taken active efforts in reducing disaster risk in their communities and advocates for disaster risk reduction

As Mountain Sentinels is interested in extending partnerships in Africa, I attended a series of events focusing on African initiatives to enhance climate services. The discussion emphasized that African governments and entities in private sector should better recognize the importance of utilizing climate data that is immediately available, and allocate more domestic financial resources towards climate services in national planning. To this end, the World Meteorological Organization and the African Union Commission, with others, are working to improve the collection, storage and processing of local weather and climate data. A two-day “Multi-hazard early warning conference” also emphasized the importance of multidisciplinary research and partnerships, of making early warnings more accessible to communities at risk, of  improving access to the insurance sector, and finally, the importance of more holistic, integrated, multi-scaled, high-resolution – and most of all, people-centered – weather and climate services.

Overall, the event highlighted the important role that Mountain Sentinels plays by focusing on topographically heterogeneous regions of mountains, the policy-research interface, and the importance of applying an integrated approach to exploring current and future disaster risk trajectories in the face of multiple stressors. Importantly, the need for more academic involvement was underscored in most sessions – illuminating multiple opportunities to provide evidence-based input into ongoing revisions of texts and working groups, policies and local to international DRR interventions worldwide.

Partners for Resilience networking event


Further reading about DRR can be found on the “Resources” section of our website.