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Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Dr. Ben Wisner is a renowned academic and a GNDR Member Dr. Ben Wisner is a renowned academic and a GNDR Member
GNDR member and renowned academic Ben Wisner responds with his first impressions on the HFA2 draft seven targets still under discussion on March 17th, as negotiations still continue overnight into the final and closing day of the conference.

[by Ben Wisner | 3rd WCDRR Sendai | 18 March 2015 | Day 5]

The following are my initial thoughts on the HFA2's targets on 17 March 2015, before negotiations conclude on March 18th and a final text is agreed

1) Substantially reduce global disaster mortality by 2030 aiming to lower average per 100,000 global mortality between 2020-2030 compared to 2005-2015

What counts as 'substantial'? Average across the world, regions or by country? That matters a lot. Whose life matters? Are some lives more valuable than others? Why is there no emphasis on regions and groups of people who face the greatest mortal dangers? Also, there is a statistical trick here. Even a one-third reduction in deaths/ 100,000 would still leave a large number of deaths in some regions of the world because of their high population growth rate and much larger total population exposed by 2030. Is that acceptable?

2) Substantially reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030 aiming to lower average global figures per 10,000 between 2020-2030 compared to 2005-2015.

'Affected' has never been well defined. Here it is again!

Both targets one and two are very loosely defined, drawn out over too long a time period and prone to manipulation because they are couched in terms of 'averages'.

3) Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to global gross domestic product GDP by 2030.

Target number three is even less rigorous than one and two. The adverb 'substantially' has disappeared. So what scale of 'reduction' of direct disaster economic loss would satisfy this target? The use of a ratio ('in relation to global GDP') gives HFA2 framers a wide door for escape: global GDP only has to grow faster than disaster loss in order to reduce the ratio. So, in fact, absolute amount of disaster loss doesn't even have to fall! Sadly, the implied assumption of continued growth shows that the framers have not taken on board the warning contained in UNISDR's own Global Assessment of Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 and the research of Sasakawa 2015 laureate, Allan Lavell and many others, that economic growth itself in its current form is a major driver of increased disaster risk.

4) Substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030.

Target number four is a dangerous portmanteau sentence. It lumps together 'critical infrastructure' and 'basic services'. Businesses, including overseas investors, look carefully at 'critical infrastructure' and demand its security. So certain rail links, certain roads and airports and Internet service will doubtless be hardened and made more resilient. However, many corporate investments feature their own on site energy sources and water treatment. Considerable improvement could be made in 'critical infrastructure' resilience without corresponding attention to the 'basic services' on which ordinary people depend. What is the real commitment of HFA2 to provision of disaster resilient farm-to-market roads, urban drainage, clean water supply and adequate sanitation? As regards health care, sanitation and water supply, one cannot make 'resilient' what doesn't exist. So does HFA2 also commit itself to working toward provision of these basic services in the first place?

5) Substantially increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020.

There are already many countries with national paper strategies. So the new element here is the word 'local'. But how can local strategies be developed if among these seven targets there is nothing about increasing the amount/ share of DRR resources managed by local government units nor anything about increasing the number of community-local government partnerships? (Also see target number seven below.)

6) International cooperation -still to be agreed.

Proposed text for further negotiation: Substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries, through adequate and sustainable provision of support to compliment national action for implementation of this framework by 2030.

7) Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030.

The phrase 'to the people' gives away the mind set of the framers. They still do not respect and acknowledge the knowledge and skill that ordinary people possess and use to protect themselves and each other in their villages and neighbourhoods. There is nothing in these seven targets that give priority to building upon the capacity of communities, empowering local government units and communities to form partnerships or to develop ways that communities can better hold national governments accountable for failing to control the misuse of economic and economic power that creates new disaster risk.

UPDATE: With the signature of the brief, single-page Sendai Declaration, international governments have now adopted officially on March 18th 2015  the new international framework for disaster risk reduction, after marathon negotiations that went for almost 40 continuous hours. The document will be called the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

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