The global battle to reduce disaster losses by 2030 will be won or lost in Asia-Pacific, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

At the recent Asia Pacific Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction in Brisbane, Australia, the co-chairs’ statement expressed strong concern about current disaster trends and impacts. 

“Climate change amplifies risk with far-reaching consequences, especially on the most vulnerable. With concerted action from all sectors, the impacts of climate change can be addressed. Business as usual is not an option; current development and investment practices must change,” it said.

The five-day event – which was organised by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) – drew up to 3,000 delegates from more than 40 countries and centred on the theme, “From Crisis to Resilience: Transforming the Asia-Pacific Region’s future through disaster risk reduction.”

As the Asia-Pacific is the most disaster-prone region in the world, the conference reviewed efforts to prevent new and reduce existing risks, and for countries and organisations to make actionable commitments against the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, according to the UNDRR.

World’s most cat-exposed region

“Asia accounts for nearly one third (31%) of weather, climate and water-related disasters reported globally, accounting for nearly half of deaths (47%) and one third (31%) of associated economic losses,” said Johan Stander, director of services for the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

According to WMO’s Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019), there were 3,454 recorded disasters in the Asia Pacific region, with 975,622 lives lost and $1.2 trillion in reported economic damages.

Most of these disasters were associated with floods (45%) and storms (36%).

However, many of the most vulnerable, especially in ‘Small Island Developing States’, are not adequately protected by Early Warning Systems and are a prime focus of the WMO-spearheaded drive to achieve ‘Early Warnings for All’ in the next five years.

“The UN Secretary-General has called for early warning systems to reach everybody within five years. Early warning systems are to be multi-hazard, end-to-end, people-centred and tied to contingent financing mechanisms to enable anticipatory action,” continued the co-chairs’ statement.

“They must leverage scientific and local, indigenous and traditional knowledge. We call on governments and stakeholders to accelerate development and/or expansion of impact-based forecasting; and universally-accessible, end-to-end, people-centred and gender-responsive, multi-hazard early warning systems,” it said.

Stander stressed that early warning systems save lives: “WMO Members provide the authoritative sources for early warnings to support climate change adaptation and disaster preparedness. To achieve our ambition of universal protection by 2027, we need to leverage stakeholders’ engagement to ensure they reach the last mile.”

Initiatives such as the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF), and the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems Initiative (CREWS) are cornerstones of the drive to improve multi-hazard early warnings by filling gaps in the global observing system and boosting resilience.