Disaster risk reduction and sustainable development, two sides of the same coin


Fiji school yard in the aftermath of Cyclone Winston in 2016. While extreme weather events are not new, their increased frequency and intensity have become the new normal, with corresponding impacts on lives, livelihoods and assets.

With recent extreme weather events, we all bear witness to the likely impacts of climate change  The strength of the hurricanes in the United States and the Caribbean, and the wet season-related flooding and mudslides in Bangladesh and Sierra Leone, are all in line with what we should expect with climate change. 

While extreme events are not new, their increased frequency and intensity have become the new normal, with corresponding impacts on lives, livelihoods and assets.  Historically, worldwide losses from natural disasters have averaged US$100 billion annually, but this number is growing.  In 2016, losses were estimated at US$175 billion, 70% of which were attributed to meteorological, hydrological and climatological events.  2017 losses will surpass these figures, with estimates for Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Maria alone exceeding US$200 billion.

The formidable challenge of humanitarian relief and recovery following a disaster puts incredible strain on limited public resources.  In developing countries especially, it can force shifts in national development priorities, placing at risk fragile gains in areas such as poverty reduction, health and economic development.

Targeted investments to reduce disaster risks can help protect countries from these impacts.  It is estimated that for every dollar invested in disaster risk reduction, US$2-$10 are avoided or reduced in disaster response and recovery costs. 

Climate risk informed planning, and investments towards improving climate resilience, could therefore result in long term savings from reduced loss and damage, and allow progress towards achievement of sustainable development goals. 

One size does not fit all

Adaptation refers to the measures needed to reduce vulnerability and/or increase capacity to manage the impacts of climate change. In practice, adaptation means different things in different countries. 

For instance, in mountainous Bhutan, greater intensity of the monsoon season has resulted in increased incidence of flash floods and landslides - destroying crops in low lying areas, damaging roads and disrupting access to services and markets.  Adaptation in Bhutan must therefore consider the steep terrain, with measures focused on slope stabilization and sustainable land management. 

In Viet Nam, its long coastline leaves it vulnerable to sea level rise and typhoons.  Coastal adaptation measures, such as mangrove rehabilitation and climate resilient housing, are therefore needed to protect coastal communities. 

While such measures cannot prevent extreme events, they can significantly reduce impact – saving lives and reducing economic loss and damage. 

Paris Agreement key to action

The Paris Agreement established the global goal on adaptation of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development. 

This critical link to sustainable development was further stressed recently by Ministers from Least Developed Countries (LDCs), when they reiterated that “adaptation and loss and damage are crucial components of the global response to climate change, especially for LDCs which are particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change.”

While the will exists for countries to invest in adaptation, the impact of extreme events will continue to force decisions, ones that pit urgent needs against sustainable development planning. 

Through their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), countries detailed not only their emissions reduction targets, but also adaptation priorities to address current and future climate change.  In line with the Paris Agreement, vulnerable countries will need support to meet their targets and address their adaptation priorities – enabling them to move out of the cycle of responding to disasters and towards greater preparedness and sustainable development.    

The impacts of climate change are being seen and felt around the world.  For UNDP, supporting vulnerable nations to adapt and reduce disaster risks are key elements for enabling sustainable development.

For information about UNDP’s support to adaptation, including in Bhutan and Viet Nam, please visit: http://www.adaptation-undp.org/

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