Ten years after the Hyogo Framework became the global blueprint for disaster risk reduction, so much has changed about the way we approach disaster risk reduction. Today, our work focuses not only on disaster preparedness, but on building resilience by helping communities mitigate the inevitable disasters they will face before, during, and after they strike.

This week, I led the U.S. delegation to the Third U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. Joined by partner agencies, including USAID, the State Department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), FEMA, NASA, and USPS, we set out to renew our commitments to reduce the risk of disasters at home and abroad. The result: the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.  Establishing ambitious targets, this framework includes goals of reducing mortality, minimizing economic and infrastructure losses, and getting countries to commit to disaster risk reduction strategies.

Three themes were front and center at Sendai and are critical to making the world a safer place in the next 15 years.

1. Building Resilience

Reducing disaster risk is not enough. We must build resilience by helping communities build the capacity to bounce back from the inevitable shocks they face. We must move from a preoccupation with mega-disasters — tsunamis and earthquakes — to also deal with chronic shocks and stresses — from frequent floods and droughts to rapid urbanization and chronic food insecurity — that keep communities locked in a cycle of crisis. To do so, we have to break down silos, bringing the humanitarian and development communities together to invest in long-term solutions that build resilience among the world’s most vulnerable. Many governments and donors at Sendai recognized the importance of this, and as a result, the Sendai Framework elevates resilience as a priority.

USAID’s resilience programs in the Sahel are helping pastoralists to diversify their livelihoods so that they are not solely reliant on the land and are better prepared to cope with dry seasons. Sahra Osman Ibrahim received a loan to open up a shop through the USAID-supported Somali Microfinance Share Company. / USAID Ethiopia.

USAID’s resilience programs in the Sahel are helping pastoralists to diversify their livelihoods so that they are not solely reliant on the land and are better prepared to cope with dry seasons. Sahra Osman Ibrahim received a loan to open up a shop through the USAID-supported Somali Microfinance Share Company. / USAID Ethiopia.

Since 2012, USAID has been a leader in mobilizing a global conversation on resilience. We have brought our humanitarian and development teams together to co-design programs that help communities build adaptive capacity across a range of areas, from diversifying their livelihoods to providing access to early warning and risk insurance. Conference participants were eager to hear about USAID’s approach to resilience and our bold new Global Resilience Partnership, which will help catalyze innovations and scale up solutions to the toughest resilience challenges in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. We look forward to working with partner governments and other donors to coordinate our investments in resilience.

2. Promoting Local Solutions

The Tecpán Municipal Disaster Reduction Committee meets to discuss risk reduction priorities for the 2012 rainy season. / Auriana Koutnik, USAID.

The Tecpán Municipal Disaster Reduction Committee meets to discuss risk reduction priorities for the 2012 rainy season. / Auriana Koutnik, USAID.

Locally-driven solutions are crucial for lessening disaster risks. Many civil society organizations were present at Sendai, sharing how their communities have been affected by disasters and part of the solution to building preparedness and resilience at the local level. They will continue to play a critical role in holding governments accountable for their commitments. At USAID, we have invested heavily in community-led disaster risk reduction programs. For example, in Guatemala, we trained 27 remote communities in Tecpán to prepare for and respond to disasters. As part of our Resilience in the Sahel—Enhanced program, we are working with local women to diversify their livelihoods, so that they are not solely reliant on one source of income when disaster strikes. We expect our Global Resilience Challenge teams will unlock new ideas for fostering locally-led solutions to building resilience. USAID will continue to work in strong partnership with local communities and civil society to advance these goals.

3. Fostering Inclusion

Thomas H. Staal, acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, participates in the Children and Youth Forum in Sendai, Japan. / Cynthia Romero, USAID

Thomas H. Staal, acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, participates in the Children and Youth Forum in Sendai, Japan. / Cynthia Romero, USAID

During a disaster, women, youth, the elderly and people with disabilities have different needs and often fare worse than others. I was glad to see the inclusion of these critical stakeholders in the Sendai Framework. During the conference, I participated in the Children and Youth Forum, where I shared some highlights from USAID’s youth programs on disaster risk reduction in Jamaica and Nepal. While youth work is important, we also work with the elderly, who bring their own unique perspectives and capabilities to bear. When we invest in disaster risk reduction worldwide, we must make sure no community is left behind, and that we are taking the unique needs and strengths of each community into account.

Without a doubt, reducing the risk of disasters and building resilience is critical to protecting the gains made in sustainable development. As we look towards the post-2015 development agenda, Sendai reminded us that we must make risk-informed investments if we are to achieve our goal of ending extreme poverty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas H. Staal is acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA). Follow the DCHA Bureau @USAID_DCHA.