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 Asia and the 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 in 2015 called for a regional road map to implement the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals in Asia and the Pacific. On 3rd November, leaders and decision-makers at the Asian Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction adopted 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 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 percent of the world’s 344 natural disasters, reporting over 16,000 fatalities, and incurring more than US$ 45.1 billion in economic damages, plus even more in indirect losses.
Foremost, 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 Asia and the Pacific, infrastructure is increasingly being exposed to 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 the latest scientific advancements to promote resilient infrastructure. Escap’s newest institution, the Asian and Pacific Centre for Development of Disaster Information Management, 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.
Second, 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 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 initiative provides an excellent foundation for bridging these gaps. Over the past two decades, Resap has harnessed the latest 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.
Taking forward this momentum, Escap will host the Asia-Pacific Space Leaders Forum during AMCDRR, 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 2018—2030, and foster greater discussion on the operational needs of end-users, while capitalizing on emerging applications from the space community. The discussion and deliberations at the Forum will provide valuable additions to regional efforts in disaster mitigation and for monitoring the implementation of SDG goals in the region.
Last, the nature of disasters in the region is increasingly complex with extensive cross-border implications, given that the area shares the world’s two most seismically-active fault lines, three major ocean basins, and many rivers and river basins. Climatic events including cyclones, floods, and entire drought-affected swaths, all of which can cross national boundaries.
Solutions to mitigating these cross-border impacts are most effective at the regional level. The Escap Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness, for example, is an excellent example of a financing mechanism that has been set up as a regional public good and has ensured the development of an integrated regional early warning system for coastal hazards since 2005. The Escap-supported Escap/WMO Typhoon committee and the WMO/Escap Panel on Tropical Cyclones assists 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 implementation, towards building 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 and 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 actions across Asia and the Pacific and anchor disaster risk reduction at the heart of sustainable development.
Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is a United Nations Undersecretary General and the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.