Question for Short Debate
My Lords, it is now a year since the Sendai Framework for Disaster Reduction 2015-2030 was agreed in Japan and later endorsed at the United Nations General Assembly. Therefore, it seems appropriate to table this Question for Short Debate to review how we are doing on our share of the implementation.
The Sendai framework was the first of three landmark agreements made as part of the United Nations’ post-2015 agenda. The other two were the sustainable development goals, finalised in New York in September last year, and the Paris climate change agreement in December. The Sendai framework builds on the legacy created by the Hyogo framework, which embraced the 10 years from 2005 to 2015. This emphasised disaster-risk reduction as a priority within regional, national and local agendas. The Sendai framework gives greater emphasis to the need to address disaster-risk management, to reduce existing vulnerability and to prevent the creation of new risks. In other words, the key message is effective risk management, which will in turn lead to risk reduction.
What Governments around the world are ultimately required to deliver by their citizens can be summarised in very simple terms as the delivery of health, well-being, resilience and security. All these depend on social, physical and natural infrastructures, and we are all critically dependent on these being maintained for the essentials of life. When they fail, whether by reason of, for example, epidemic, flooding, the collapse of a structure or any other such disaster, it is the national Government who will be held to account.
The Sendai framework does not in any way reduce the primary responsibility of each state to reduce disaster risk but recognises that co-ordination and partnership between regions and nations is essential for disaster-risk management. In order to reduce risk, we need to identify and roll out best practice, we need to promote the collection, analysis, management and use of scientific data, and we need to ensure that these data are available to everyone.
The United Kingdom has a lot to offer to the international community in the field of the assessment and management of risk. It is one of the few countries to have a publicly available national risk register, based on a classified national risk assessment, with a strong and deeply embedded civil contingencies secretariat and well-rehearsed disaster prevention and management protocols and procedures.
The Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Mark Walport, in his first annual report published in 2014—that is, before Sendai—said that the United Kingdom should continue to develop the role for innovation, as well as evidence and risk evaluation, in the delivery of resilient infrastructure. He said that the United Kingdom would need further to develop the national risk register as a key part of the debate on national infrastructure and resilience investment. I suspect that our national infrastructure in respect of electricity generation in this country is now looking less fit for its purpose than it was when he wrote that in 2014, with margins between demand and supply now tighter than had been previously predicted. Of course, shortage of electricity would certainly risk disastrous consequences. Can the Minister tell us whether the national risk register has, indeed, been further developed and, if so, how?
Disaster experts are cautious of labelling any disaster a natural disaster, although clearly nature may be the catalyst which sets off a disastrous chain of events. Environmental hazards become disasters as a result of the risks and vulnerabilities that people are exposed to on a daily basis. As a result of technological change, environmental depletion and climate change, the complexity of the risks faced by humanity increases year by year. Policymakers must define an acceptable level of risk. Developed economies typically have regulation in place which is designed to protect their citizens and limit such risks, whether generated by environmental change or man-made disaster. However, this could be at the expense of other parts of the world where regulation may be less appropriate.
Looking back at what is now almost history, the Bhopal gas tragedy in India of 1984 was a notorious such example. The consequence of that disaster was political unrest generated not just by the explosion in the chemical factory but by the failure of the recovery and accountability process. It was such scandalous examples of disaster management that led the United Nations to convene the first world conference on natural disasters in Yokohama in 1994.
Disaster impacts are strongly influenced by such issues as poverty, inequity, poor urban planning and inappropriate land use. The Sendai framework recognises that essential to addressing these issues, which lead to communities’ exposure to risk, is the contribution of science and technology. We are, of course, the leading European country in terms of scientific output and we are rightly proud of our contribution to generating scientific evidence, which will, in turn, underpin risk management. It is through mobilising the expertise residing in our research institutions and commissioning the appropriate research that we can make the greatest contribution to implementing the Sendai agreement.
I commend the initiatives of Public Health England that were listed in the helpful briefing pack produced for this debate by the House of Lords Library. It included a paper from PHE’s global health committee which refers to, among other health disaster issues, its contribution to controlling the outbreak of Ebola in Sierra Leone. I hope that PHE is now adding an assessment of the contribution that UK science should make to the control of the Zika virus.
In answer to a Parliamentary Question from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, in November, the Minister said that the Government were still assessing the full implications of the Sendai framework for DfID programmes. I wonder whether she is now able to give us any further information on DfID’s response.
I have no doubt that in responding to the Sendai framework we will benefit greatly from our membership of the European Union, which in this respect has a supporting competence. Will the Minister confirm that in addressing this 15 year-old non-binding agreement, which recognises that each state has the primary role in reducing disaster risk, we benefit enormously from close collaboration with our fellow EU members and from the European Union’s supporting competence?
In Europe, over 80% of current disaster losses are caused by weather-related hazards and these are expected to increase in frequency, yet only a minority of the flood risks, for example, can be attributed to climate change. The rest can be attributed to human behaviour, such as building in risk areas. Most so-called natural disasters are nothing of the sort. With effective contingency planning, risk assessment and risk management, we can enhance resilience. Above all, we need to identify clearly and explicitly how our impressive science and technology capacity in the United Kingdom can underpin our contribution to global risk disaster and risk reduction.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, a very distinguished chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, on having this debate at an appropriate time, one year after the Sendai framework, which is the result of steady progress over the past 30 years in reducing the impact of natural disasters.
There was a decade of natural disasters from the late 1980s to the 1990s. Then, as the noble Earl implied, there was the Yokohama meeting, which I attended as head of the Met Office, when the technical challenges were outlined. For example, some of the important developments were the advances in warnings for many kinds of disaster. At that time there was tremendous resistance to the sharing of data; some disasters could have been considerably reduced had there been a better exchange. By the time we got to Hyogo, 10 years later, some of this exchange of data was improved but there were also new technologies for the dissemination of data.
In the past few years we have moved on to the question of climate change effects. At the IPCC, in which Dr Murray was involved, there was great progress in understanding how natural disasters can become more severe and frequent with climate change. The Sendai meeting and framework began to focus on the social and governmental role. One of the important points was that this has stimulated much more work in universities and institutions in the UK on social vulnerability and post-disaster resilience. I have a colleague here this afternoon from UCL’s institute, which is a result of this movement.
I emphasise the continuing need to understand natural disasters, predict them and warn about them, realising that we still have a very big task, particularly with earthquakes. When Dr Wahlström came to London before the Sendai meeting, we discussed the question of major challenges to establishing improvements. I think it has generally been accepted in all fields of endeavour, including science and technology, that some of the greatest challenges can be overcome when there are targets—a man on the moon is one example, cancer is another—and meteorology is no exception. It has to be remembered that in the 1990s, textbooks in the United States said that it was impossible to improve the accuracy of forecasting for tropical cyclones, hurricanes or tornados. In fact, a few years later, there was very significant improvement.
There is still considerable uncertainty about earthquakes, which cause some of the greatest problems and really are national disasters—there is nothing that causes such disasters like the natural disturbances in the earth. Research groups in Russia and China and some run by private individuals in the United States are working on that problem, and I find it very disappointing that these most important events, in which tens or hundreds of thousands of people can die, are not mentioned as a target by the Sendai framework. Targets are really important.
The framework is very good at saying how we should use science and technology, but if we had this as a major United Nations goal and used all the technologies—I know about some of those in the defence sector—there could be improvement. All our newspapers today were covering Prince Harry, who is in Nepal supporting the people there following the recent earthquake. These new developments will come from integrating massive computational studies covering areas from the outer atmosphere to the bottom of the ocean and through the layers of the earth. Some of the physical processes are still quite uncertain.
The framework, quite rightly, points out how physical processes and social impacts from natural disasters differ between regions. The framework has some important recommendations about how these goals might be agreed and promoted through a committee of the United Nations natural disaster body or through its science and technology advisory group. I am very pleased to see that this advisory group has specialised groups in the different regions of the world, because one of the things we know is that natural and meteorological events, including pollution, flooding and many others, vary greatly from one region to another. There is much local expertise. I make this perhaps trivial point because many of the computer models used for climate are used the same way all over the world, and people now realise that that may not be the best way to do it.
In the past, the United Nations agencies had strong records in reducing certain risks, such as those in meteorology that I mentioned, but there are other geophysical risks that have had less resources focused on them. I hope that the UNISDR STAG will have the strength to divert resources to the critical areas, one of which remains hydrology and the question of floods. The other important point is about practice in other parts of the world: the Philippines, for example, has the most advanced system in the world, using modern communication methods and online computer modelling to see how floods move through areas and through different houses. Comparing how they are doing it there with, I am afraid to say, some of the ways that we are doing it here in the UK, could offer good examples of exchange from the south to the north.
I believe that the Foreign Office also has a role in co-ordinating UK representation at these agencies, and in that sense it needs to collaborate with the European Union. I continue to think that the proportion of funds devoted to water resources and flooding is too small. Having made these points, I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, for initiating this extremely timely debate. As he indicated, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction is a 15-year, voluntary, non-binding agreement which recognises that the state has the primary role to reduce disaster risk but that the responsibility should be shared with other stakeholders including local government and the private sector.
Last week, as the noble Earl indicated, was the first anniversary of the framework, which was adopted in 2015 in Japan. Sendai also held the 2016 Symposium for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Future this month.
When I was thinking about this debate this morning, I was listening to Radio 4 and I heard Professor Jim Al-Khalili, presenter of “The Life Scientific”, introduce the environmental scientist Professor Carolyn Roberts. In doing so, he mentioned that barely a month goes by without news of another catastrophic flood somewhere in the world: we had the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, the flooding in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina a year later, and the typhoon in the Philippines in 2013, with the role of climate change being strongly mooted. Jim also reminded us of the events here this winter when, once again, flood victims were caught in a cycle of despair and anger as they tried to make sense of why their homes were flooded and what could be done to prevent it happening again.
I immediately tuned in to the radio, bearing in mind the potential for the Sendai framework to structure how all communities, both locally and globally—I am sorry for the interruption, but I cannot decide which glasses to wear at the moment. I have a slight problem with cataracts and I am finding it difficult to focus. As I was saying, I tuned in to the radio, bearing in mind the potential for the Sendai framework to structure how all communities, both locally and globally, are able to respond and protect people when disasters occur, and for science and technology to contribute. Professor Roberts applies water science in particular to work out why such events occur and the role that we humans play in them. One thing she mentioned that I thought had huge resonance for today’s debate was her recollection of a local politician, who was responsible for planning policy in a council, asking what a flood-plain was. What this brought home to me—and to her; this is the point she was making—was the importance of bringing a better understanding of science to the public and ensuring that public policy development works hand in hand with scientific progress.
The Sendai framework recommends that national and local government work closely with the private sector in their area across the four priorities for action, benefiting from industry expertise—the examples given in the framework are insurance and risk sharing, as well as lessons in good practice such as resilient building codes, and resilient tourism and the business community.
My noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton has stressed how the Sendai framework and its priorities for action have been developed based on the 10-year experience of implementing the Hyogo framework and the ones that went before that. These priorities are key to enabling disaster management agencies to move beyond improved disaster management to address the underlying disaster risks. However, as my noble friend stated, it is also important that government agencies and the research community are encouraged to improve the technologies of prediction and warning, especially where the current methods fail, such as the warnings for earthquakes, as highlighted by my noble friend, and for certain kinds of typhoon, such as that which occurred in the Philippines.
I am also pleased to see that we have here today Professor Virginia Murray, head of extreme events and health protection at Public Health England. I read the extract from her excellent blog in the briefing that we received from the Library in which she illustrated how Public Health England works internationally alongside other Governments and in partnership with organisations such as the WHO, and, of course, collaboratively with DfID. She pointed out that through the Sendai framework Public Health England would be able to build a structured response using a greater level of detail and clarity, and to consider the potential for science and technology to contribute.
My noble friend also mentioned the role of the EU, which has, of course, strongly supported the Sendai framework’s extension of the traditional focus on natural hazards to include man-made hazards and associated environmental, technological and biological hazards, which brings it in line with progress made at a European level in recent years. What contributions have the Government made to the development of the EU action plan on the implementation of the Sendai framework?
As Professor Murray highlighted, the Sendai framework also includes targets to reduce damage to infrastructure and disruption to basic services, including health and education facilities. In recent times we have seen a particular impact in Africa from epidemics and other risks. Some disaster experts have said that the lack of a firm commitment in the agreement to ramp up international aid for risk reduction would undermine poorer countries’ efforts to make progress on the SDGs.
In February a special session on the gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction and climate change was convened in Geneva by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Countries were urged to act on the emphasis that the Sendai framework placed on gender issues. What efforts are the Government making to reflect this and to work with disaster-prone countries to ensure that women are involved in the disaster risk decision-making process and resource management, and to ensure that they have access to social protection measures, education, health and early warnings?
As the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has already mentioned, in response to a Written Question from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, last November, the noble Baroness the Minister said that the department remained committed to supporting the most vulnerable countries to better withstand and recover from the impact of disasters. However, she indicated that DfID was still assessing the full implications of the Sendai framework for its programmes.
Disaster risk is costing countries more than $300 billion a year. If disasters strike in developing countries, they can wipe out 20% or more of GDP. Many experts argue that if we want to address sustainable development, disaster risk has to be incorporated in development planning. Evidence shows that Governments are failing to incorporate disaster risk in the planning of their economic development. What measures are the Government taking to address this, and will they highlight the importance of this issue at the next session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2017?
What efforts are the Government making to promote the need to integrate disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation efforts, particularly given that 90% of disasters are now climate-related? Can the Minister indicate what the Government’s current priorities are in the vital area of disaster risk reduction?
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Selborne for securing this debate, and I thank all noble Lords for their excellent contributions. The debate has demonstrated that we did not need lots of speakers—its quality has been excellent. I share the same breakfast listening in the mornings as the noble Lord, Lord Collins. It was a really interesting programme this morning and I listened to it when I was stuck in traffic, trying to get to the department.
I see on a near-daily basis how the lives of poor people are threatened by the effects of disasters. A changing climate, combined with rising populations, urbanisation, environmental degradation, war and conflict, is challenging progress to end extreme poverty and is tipping more people into crisis. We know that early action and work to build the resilience of countries, communities and people can save lives when disaster hits. Indeed, early action and resilience building helps protect livelihoods, safeguards development gains and offers better value for money.
We have had a range of questions. I hope that I will be able to respond to some of them from my notes. I have also taken note of some of the questions that noble Lords asked, but if I fail to respond to any of them today I undertake to write to noble Lords.
Since 2010 we have significantly improved the quality and speed of our humanitarian response. We have prioritised disaster preparedness. In the new UK aid strategy, we identify strengthening resilience and our response to crises as one of our four strategic objectives. We are committed to doing more to strengthen the resilience of poor and fragile countries to disasters, shocks and climate change.
DfID and the Cabinet Office have worked with the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction on developing the Sendai framework. In March of last year my right honourable friend the Minister of State for International Development, Mr Desmond Swayne, spoke at the third UN world conference in Sendai. The framework is coherent with other international processes. It builds international co-operation and global partnerships, strengthens disaster risk governance and takes account of the particular needs of countries that are at risk of conflicts and insecurity as well as natural hazards. It ensures that development investments are disaster-proof.
Over the past five years since the publication of the humanitarian emergency response review, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, my department has focused on building the resilience of poor and vulnerable people to disasters. Here we have seen real leadership. The UK was the first donor country to define and frame disaster resilience, and we have successfully influenced the funding strategies of others. Internally, we have embedded disaster resilience in all our country programmes, integrated resilience in our work on climate change and improved the coherence of our humanitarian and development work.
I have some examples. In Ethiopia we contribute £276 million to a £2.2 billion programme that provides guaranteed employment for more than 8 million people on activities to stop soil erosion and preserve scarce water. This has transformed formerly famine-stricken areas of Ethiopia. El Niño has hit Ethiopia hard, but a combination of this kind of preparedness work and concerted action by the Ethiopian Government and donors has meant that there has been no repeat of the horrific famine of the 1980s.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned Nepal. Prior to the devastating earthquakes in April and May 2015, the UK was already supporting a five-year programme to build Nepal’s disaster management system. This included measures to strengthen legislation on land use and building codes to retrofit key buildings such as hospitals to withstand earthquakes, to build the capacity of the Government and communities to organise, and to pre-position goods and train people to save lives in the immediate aftermath. So when the earthquake hit, the first relief was distributed within hours. When more relief was needed, the humanitarian staging area that the UK had built with the United Nations at Kathmandu airport helped accelerate the response by approximately three weeks. The experience in Nepal shows how the Sendai framework can be implemented and how it can directly save lives.
The UK is also leading the way in understanding and sharing what works best. The Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters programme, known as BRACED, will help more than 5 million people, especially women and children, cope with the impacts of extreme climate events by creating new coalitions of civil society, government, media, universities and meteorological offices to build community resilience, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, alluded to in his opening remarks. Lessons from this will be used to improve local and national policies and build institutional knowledge.
But we know that timely responses depend on finances also being in place well before disasters strike. Here, the UK has a strong story to tell, with the Africa Risk Capacity programme using modern finance mechanisms to enable African Governments to obtain natural disaster insurance, reducing the losses incurred by extreme weather events and natural disasters, and helping protect livelihoods. After the poor rains in late 2014, the system paid out £18 million to Senegal, Mauritania and Niger, providing food for 1.3 million people and fodder for nearly 600,000 livestock.
Before I conclude, I will respond to some of the questions asked by noble Lords. My noble friend Lord Selborne asked about the national risk register. He rightly drew attention to the importance of the role that that plays in the discussion on national infrastructure and resilience investment. The national risk register and the national risk assessment are based on, and rooted in, scientific evidence. The Government Office for Science and the broad range of stakeholders that it represents are important partners in delivering a rigorous and evidence-based assessment of the hazards and threats faced by the UK.
My noble friend also asked about DfID building resilience to pandemics such as Ebola. The UK led the international response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, and we have committed £427 million. The response brought together 10 government departments and four other non-public bodies, along with non-governmental organisations and charities. While huge challenges remain to help Sierra Leone rebuild its economy, the rapid and flexible cross-government UK action helped to save several thousand lives and put a halt to the outbreak of the disease spreading further. We must also pay great tribute to the people of Sierra Leone themselves, who were on the ground working very closely with UK personnel.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned targets and earthquakes. Sendai is designed as a broad framework with guiding principles and priorities for action and increased strengthening of the role of the Science Advisory Group. Our expertise has long played a strong role and will continue to do so, but it is important to ensure that all forms of disaster are covered. We also need to make sure that we work with partners so that they will also be able to strengthen their systems.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned gender, and how we are supporting and protecting women and girls in disasters. As the noble Lord is aware, it is a subject very close to my own heart and very much at the centre of all the programmes that DfID is working in. We know that data are limited and that there is evidence that more women are likely to die after a disaster than men. Similarly, child sexual abuse has historically increased after emergencies, perhaps just because of the breakdown of social structures. The risks to survival of transactional sex are high, and the needs of women and girls are often overlooked during humanitarian crises. It is really important not only that we are only constantly mindful of that ourselves but that we remind donor partners with which we work and the countries in which we work that we should not overlook those challenging needs that particularly face women and girls. We are in a unique position, with both humanitarian operations and long-term development programmes, to address the immediate needs of survivors of disasters and those who are prey to sexual violence in emergencies. Ultimately, we need to tackle the underlying root causes of abuse so that gender inequality and discrimination are eradicated.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked about funding. As he is aware, we have scaled up our support to meet our share of the developed countries’ commitment to provide $100 billion towards climate change activities. That is an increase of 50%, so our own contribution is $5.8 billion.
My Lords, I hope that our response is comprehensive so that it takes into account all the issues that the noble Lord and indeed all of us should be concerned about on the effects of climate change. I am pretty certain that we will talk to colleagues to get a more detailed answer around the issue of water. While I was a Minister at DECC it was very much part of the wider debate, so I am pretty certain that it is not an overlooked subject matter.
Funding for work in response to climate change, for meeting our commitments and to meet other donors is done through the International Climate Fund. We work with our colleagues at DECC and Defra to make sure that not only do we reduce poverty and provide clean energy but we make sure that we are part of the economic growth agenda. Disaster financing should focus on the vulnerable, the poorest and those furthest away from help. It is likely that, while we are looking at development issues, we need to constantly make sure that humanitarian finance, which is currently under massive strain, is not overlooked and keeps pace with the rising need. Consequently, there is a need for Governments, businesses and individuals to build resilience against these disaster risks and develop rigorous disaster risk management strategies. Plans for risk financing, including insurance, should be an integral part of that.
I think I have run out of time, but I conclude by saying that the UK will meet its commitments under the new UK ODA strategy to strengthen resilience and our response to crises. The world humanitarian summit in May is a once-in-a-generation moment for the UK to showcase its experience and change the way that we work in the poorest and most fragile countries. As we come together to agree new ways of working to save lives and reduce hardship around the globe, the UK will play its role in making the summit a success. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Selborne, who reminds us of the work being done but also reminds us not to take our foot off the pedal in making sure that, as a lead development partner, we press other donors to implement and carry out their responsibilities, as the UK so successfully does.
Committee adjourned at 6.37 pm.