The stately river Rhone and the placid waters of Lake Geneva are a world away from the surging torrents of the Brahmaputra and the cyclone-battered shores of the Bay of Bengal.
The stately river Rhone and the placid waters of Lake Geneva are a world away from the surging torrents of the Brahmaputra and the cyclone-battered shores of the Bay of Bengal. But discussions taking place this week in one of Europe’s wealthiest cities could hold the key to saving hundreds of thousands of lives in poor countries like Bangladesh. Natural disasters such as floods, droughts and tropical cyclones are becoming more frequent and severe as climate change bites. The ailing global economy can ill afford the spiralling cost of dealing with such disasters, which is doubling every 12 years. Increasingly the poorest countries and international aid donors are pinning their hopes on what’s known as disaster risk reduction (DRR) – projects such as earth embankments, cyclone shelters and grain banks that help poor communities better withstand the worst the climate has to throw at them. Everybody who is anybody in the world of disaster risk reduction is gathered in Geneva this week for the Global Platform on DRR, an event convened every two years to share the best ideas and agree how to finance them. Working with the Government of Bangladesh I’m in Geneva as a member of the Government of Bangladesh delegation. Islamic Relief Bangladesh works closely with the Government on developing national disaster policies and implementing those policies right down to village level. We’re here together to share our experiences of dealing with seasonal flooding, river-bank erosion and cyclones in the country rated the most vulnerable in the world to the negative consequences of climate change. Last week Bangladesh was hit by Cyclone Mahasen, which killed 46 people and destroyed 49,000 homes and countless fields of crops. Investment in disaster risk reduction and effective disaster response is credited with saving many lives, as over a million people were successfully evacuated to safer areas before the cyclone struck. The Global Platform event brings together UN organisations, government representatives, aid agencies and scientists. We’re discussing a wide range of topics, from the respective roles of women, science and the private sector in disaster protection to the particular challenges of protecting low-lying island countries and overcrowded coastal cities. Our most important task is to support the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) – a ten-year UN agreement on DRR signed in 2005 by 168 countries – and work on a new agreement for when it expires. In a position paper submitted by the Bangladeshi delegation, we have called for a joined-up approach to ensure that disaster risk reduction projects are implemented hand in hand with efforts to lift people out of poverty and adapt agriculture to climate change. More investment needed from richer countries We also want to see more comprehensive risk assessment to plot the course of future disasters and more investment in DRR by the richest countries, whose industries are most responsible for climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. Above all we’re arguing for a tough new Hyogo Framework Agreement that is legally binding, ensuring that the signatories keep their promises and build on the ground-breaking projects that are taking root in Bangladesh and many other countries. In Bangladesh we have our work cut out if we want to prevent huge loss of life and economic losses in future disasters. More embankments and 2,000 more cyclone shelters are needed to make our 712km coastline as disaster proof as possible. Our hope is that through the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction and with a new Hyogo Framework Agreement, we won’t have to face these challenges