English

Seeing snow for the first time

Terry Gibson, GNDR Operations Director Terry Gibson, GNDR Operations Director
"Should snow fall in the Solomon islands, Bangladesh, Mauritius or Nigeria this would be remarkable, even in these times of extreme weather events; but less remarkable than agreement on a wise and progressive framework rooted in reality and recognising the grinding impact of everyday disasters on much of the world's population."

[by Terry Gibson | 3rd WCDRR Sendai | 13 March 2015 | Day 0]

Just one day before the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction starts the newly elected board members of GNDR are gathered in a meeting room, only slightly distracted by the bullet trains leaving Sendai station and accelerating past the windows; more so by the snow flurries swirling over the city. For several members this is their first sighting of snow ever, and the meeting pauses to allow them to enjoy and photograph this phenomenon. Snow never falls in the Solomon Islands, Bangladesh, Mauritius or Nigeria; just some of the locations of our new board. Almost as remarkable as the snow falling softly beyond the meeting is the gathering itself because this board, selected by the GNDR membership, represent the experience of civil society organisations from across the world: meeting in one room, speaking on behalf of a membership of 800 organisations, concerned ultimately for change and progress for 1.5 billon people disproportionately affected by disasters. I live near Manchester in the UK and I've seen snow fall many times; so for me the focus was inside the room rather than out through the windows as I shared in this new expression of the starting vision of the network – that we are stronger together than apart.

The discussion turned to our hopes and expectations for the final revision and ratification of a new UN global framework on Disaster Risk Reduction at this global conference in Sendai, Japan. What a grand title and a grand claim! Over 8000 have congregated here to witness and contribute to this event, and the talk in the room, as snowflakes flickered past the windows, was of the possibilities, the hopes and fears for the new framework. Several present had witnessed the establishment of the previous one in Kobe in 2005, and even been at Yokohama for the finalisation of the first in 1995. Have lessons been learnt? Have those with the power to shape this framework taken a reality check as GNDR calls them to?

The signs are not good. Much that shone through in the initial consultations, much that recognised reality in the introductory text has progressively been deleted in the later drafts and important paragraphs still hang in the balance, unapproved to date. Why? The penultimate voice is with governments for whom commitments to address the underlying drivers of disasters are often unwelcome. Though even UNISDR’s own research report - GAR 15 – emphasises that disasters are many times consequences of development rather than malevolent external forces, governments don’t want to sign up to this reality. They don’t want to be restricted in their political choices and in the rush for unsustainable growth. That’s the penultimate voice. The ultimate voice is with the lawyers, who crawl over the document to excise any statement which might expose governments to liability. Any remaining edge, any glimmer of vision is finally erased. Third time round at Sendai, after Kobe and Yokohama, there is an air of inevitability about the proceedings.

Should snow fall in the Solomon islands, Bangladesh, Mauritius or Nigeria this would be remarkable, even in these times of extreme weather events; but less remarkable than agreement on a wise and progressive framework rooted in reality and recognising the grinding impact of everyday disasters on much of the world’s population. This was the focus of the GNDR board members gathered this morning. Recognising the infinitely small chance of either event, eyes are turning to ways of acting even more effectively together with those most affected by disasters; sharing a passion and a vision which it seems is lacking in the framework to be eventually signed off less than a week from now.

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