The summer of 2017 was a stark reminder that climate change exacerbates both the intensity and frequency of natural disasters—and that the most vulnerable people are most severely affected. A recent study shows that from 2004-2014, 58 percent of disaster deaths and 34 percent of people affected by disasters were in the most fragile countries, as measured by the Fragile States Index. Disasters in these countries receive considerably less media coverage than the recent hurricanes that hit the United States. This lack of attention also leads many policymakers to overlook a possible opportunity: By working together to reduce fragility and vulnerability, could we not only better prepare for disaster, but also help prevent conflict? We have the policy tools to take an integrated approach to climate, conflict, and disaster—but we need the political will to use them.
Policymakers are often unable and even unwilling to acknowledge that complex emergencies—including disasters and conflicts—are the result of the convergence of multiple stresses and that these intersecting factors must be addressed together. The crisis in Lake Chad region is a sad example: In the region around the lake – whose shores border Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria – unemployment, poverty, and conflict interact with environmental change and degradation, producing one of the most severe humanitarian crises today, with more than 10.7 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and around 7.2 million people facing severe food insecurity. Yet, the United Nations and most other governments have not focused on the underlying environmental factors that contribute to the region’s fragility.
“The local level is where disasters happen and therefore is where actions have to be taken,” said Margareta Wahlström, former special representative and UN secretary-general for disaster risk reduction, at the 2017 Stockholm Security Conference. How can we empower local communities and build resilience of the most vulnerable? Two international efforts—the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—give policymakers strong tools they can use to take action on the local level, thereby reducing vulnerabilities and facilitating conflict prevention.
The Sendai Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals: Tools for Conflict Prevention?
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was adopted at the Third UN World Conference in Sendai, Japan, in March 2015, seeks to reduce existing risks and prevent emerging ones. The framework sets seven main global targets to be reached by 2030. Although conflict prevention is not mentioned in these targets, the Sendai Framework highlights several drivers of conflict—such as food insecurity and inadequate disaster response—that could increase fragility, instability, and lead to regime change.
The case of Myanmar illustrates these dynamics. In 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar, killing 140,000 people and severely affecting the livelihoods of 2.4 million people. In the aftermath, land scarcity drove up food prices and the number of displaced people increased. In the face of this massive crisis, the country’s military government refused to accept foreign aid, as it feared foreign interventions would support regime change. The failure to respond further increased distrust with the military regime and aggravated internal grievances. The global community’s response to Cyclone Nargis, however, shows why regional cooperation is essential for the implementation of the Sendai Framework. During the 2008 disaster, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) successfully pressured the regime to accept external humanitarian assistance.
The Sendai framework is aligned with the fundamental objectives of the SDGs, especially the goals on sustainable cities and peace. But how can policymakers use this alignment to reduce current and future risks and prevent conflict? To achieve the SDGs, conflict prevention, disaster risk reduction, and climate action must be integrated in fragile and conflict-affected states. To do so, policymakers need a way to share knowledge about disaster risk reduction strategies, implement policies, and mobilize funds to sustain these integrated initiatives, particularly in conflict settings. Global and regional online platforms could enhance policymakers’ understanding of the synergies between the SDGs and the Sendai Framework.
Cities: Building Back Better
Cities are the best laboratories for bringing today’s major policy frameworks together. Climate-related disasters are undermining security, generating new conflicts, or worsening existing ones in the rapidly urbanizing areas of the world. Food insecurity, forced migration, and poverty are pushing people to move to urban areas. The Sendai Framework and the SDGs both emphasize the need to increase resilience of cities to climate changes.
Applying the goals of the Sendai framework could help municipal governments reduce the risks and impacts of disasters. In addition, it could provide the opportunity to alleviate—and eventually prevent—climate-related fragility and conflict. By focusing on conflict prevention and disaster risk reduction, policymakers can strengthen cities’ resilience and their ability to build back better from all types of crises.
The first step to implementing the Sendai Framework at the municipal level is to build a solid legislative framework for resilience and disaster risk reduction by implementing local regulations in all sectors and strengthening the institutions that enforce them. Moreover, we need strong leaders who are willing to build a culture of safety and resilience that includes risk education for citizens at all levels of the society.
In the Philippines, for example, the local government in Albay prioritized disaster risk reduction strategies and established a permanent disaster risk management office in 1995, thus institutionalizing disaster risk reduction into the local policy framework and gaining community support for the implementation of disaster risk reduction strategies. By properly funding and prioritizing disaster prevention and preparedness in line with the Sendai Framework principles and guidelines, Albay was able to more smoothly manage disasters in the last 17 years, with the exception of the most severe storms in 2006 and 2011.
While the frameworks for action exist, the political will to use them is lacking. The Sendai Framework provides clear pathways to resilience for cities in fragile and conflict-affected states, yet most of its principles have yet to be translated into action. As Ebru Gencer of the Center for Urban Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience said during the Stockholm Security Conference, this inaction is often due to local communities’ lack of capacity and technical tools for disaster risk reduction. To close this gap, the Sendai Framework suggests improving city-to-city learning to invigorate meaningful partnerships and reinforce international cooperation. Fragile and vulnerable countries need adequate, sustainable, and timely support—in the form of financing, technology transfer, and capacity-building—from developed countries and other external donors.
This blog was originally posted on the Wilson Center's New Security Beat blog.
Dr. Florian Krampe is a political scientist working at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) where he works on climate security and sustaining peace. Dr. Krampe is an Affiliated Researcher at the Research School for International Water Cooperation at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University and a member of the Working Group on Environmental Peacemaking launched jointly by colleagues at the American University and the Uppsala University.
Roberta Scassa is an intern at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) working in the Climate Change and Risk Project. She is conducting research on Asian and African regional organizations with climate change security policies. She is a student in the International Master’s Program in Environmental Social Science at Stockholm University.