Bringing Disaster Risk Reduction into the Boardroom

The Commitment – Summer 2014, SIDS Special


 In May, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) launched the R!SE Initiative which promotes Disaster Risk-Sensitive Investments.

Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary-General forDisaster Risk Reduction, will moderate a session on creating private sector networks at the SIDS Conference in Apia.

Nosh Nalavala asks Ms. Wahlström more about creating private sector networks in SIDS.

Ms. Wahlström is shown a water monitoring station on the Nadi river, Fiji.

Nosh Nalavala How significant is this new initiative to SIDS?

Margareta Wahlström The R!SE Initiative is about bringing disaster risk into the corporate boardroom and investment decision-making process. It is an alliance across disciplines and functions including academia, science, the public and private sectors, and is an interesting and potentially significant initiative for Small Island Developing States.

NN Could you elaborate on this?

MW The way investment decisions are made in the areas of tourism, fisheries, energy, transportation, and information and communications technology, among others, will play adecisive role for the resilience and sustainable development of SIDS. If already limited resources are invested without adequate understanding and consideration of disaster risk then they will simply lead to the accumulation of more risk and further economic losses in hazard-prone areas. To give an example, one of the key outcomes expected from the R!SE Initiative is an improved framework for economic forecasting that takes into account issues such as countries’ level of preparedness, capacity to recover, and exposure of GDP to disasters. Disaster risk has largely been absent from economic planning so far allowing many risk-generating investments to go unchecked, so such a tool could catalyze a change in the way everyone, including actors in SIDS, make big and small resource allocation decisions.

NN You have seven partners in this initiative. Do you plan to expand the roster of private companies?

MW The R!SE alliance was founded by a group of 7 organisations, including UNISDR, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Willis, AECOM, the Economist Intelligence Unit, Florida International University and the Principles for Responsible Investment. It is an alliance that is expanding and growing as we speak: at the launch event in New York, we were able to announce that AXA, Citibank, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, Risk Management Solutions and Walmart have already joined. PrepComm meeting in June.

NN And what are the activities of this initiative?

MW We have eight activity streams which are strategies for global business; risk metrics for economic forecasting; industry sector certification; executive education and professional training; principles for responsible investing; resilience of cities; insurance; and the resilience of UN programming. Each of these activity streams is spearheaded by an industry leader and fuelled by the collective expertise from an increasing number of partners. The R!SE initiative is on track to grow rapidly given the increased awareness in both the public and private sectors of the need to build disaster resilience and to curb rising economic losses.

NN Is your mission to mainstream disaster risk management into corporate planning and investment decision-making?

MW There are two important facts to bear in mind. First, private investment is the single most important determinant of disaster risk because 70-85% of overall investment is made by the private sector including annual institutional investments worth more than $80 trillion globally. Second, disaster losses do not just occur naturally but depend on the way past investment decisions have been made and the range of factors that influenced those decisions. We have learned this through the last few decades, so moving forward, it is important to ensure that resources are not invested in ways that create new and unmanageable risk of losses should a hazard strike. We are essentially working to change the way business is done, and what we have learned so far is that embedding disaster risk management in business processes is key not just to resilience but also to competitiveness. In fact, the private sector in SIDS – for instance, the tourism industry, has the opportunity to really take leadership and show by example how resilient investments can lead to sustainable economic growth.

NN UNISDR is working for a safer world in the 21st century. What is your vision of making the risk and disaster prone vulnerable countries “safer”?

MW Our vision is of a world where disaster losses are minimized. While it is true that we cannot eliminate the risk of disaster losses altogether, we know equally well that a significant percentage of disaster losses are preventable. We want to realize this vision by integrating and embedding risk management across all kinds of decision making in societies to ensure, that the next generation of new disaster risks are reduced to the minimum; existing disaster risk is known, reduced or managed; and, resilience of individuals, communities and economies is proactively strengthened. We also see this as a critical contribution to realize the vision of the post-2015 development agenda. Unless risk and resilience sensitive development planning is at the core of the development vision, it will continue to be undermined and thrown off course by shocks and by disasters that will cause economic and social set backs to communities and countries. So far, strong support has been seen for risk-sensitive development goals in the proceedings of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. In fact, many SIDS are taking the lead in highlighting the need for integrating risk management across all sectoral goals.

NN I understand that you are partnering with SIDS to join adaptation with disaster risk reduction. What steps are you taking towards that goal?

MW In fact, Pacific States and territories are driving this agenda themselves. The Pacific is the first region in the world to clearly foresee the obvious links between climate change, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development policies. They’ve come together and developed a Strategy for Climate and Disaster Resilient development. This regional strategy, due to start implementation next year, will for the first time comprehensively integrate approaches to managing disaster and climate risks. We’re also seeing SIDS lead in efforts to integrate action at the national level through Joint National Action Plans on Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management and the establishment of joint national advisory boards on climate change and disaster risk management. We’re working closely with SIDS, and their partners, to realize these efforts to strengthen their resilience and build sustainable communities. In early June we co-hosted the 6th Pacific Regional Platform on Disaster Risk Management, which has made several valuable recommendations for inclusion in the new global framework for disaster risk reduction and which will be adopted in Sendai, Japan, at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March, 2015.

NN How would the Post-2015 framework on disaster risk reduction be different from the Hyogo Framework for Action?

MW The Hyogo Framework for Action is still valid in many ways and its work needs to continue to achieve its expected outcome. However, the new framework will need to address the underlying factors which drive risk and to avoid the creation of new risks as we build more to cope with population growth and rapid urbanization. There needs to be more emphasis on integrating disaster risk into public policies, ensuring coherence across institutional boundaries, sectoral policies and financial instruments. I also hope that the monitoring, reporting and review mechanisms will be much enhanced in the new framework.

 “The way investment decisions are made in the areas of tourism, fisheries, energy, transportation, and information and communications technology, among others, will play a decisive role for the resilience and sustainable development of SIDS.” – Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction