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The e-word

24-May-2013

At the 4th session of the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction, a green elephant seemed to be standing at the back of the plenary room.

By Vera Coelho

More than 3500 delegates met in Geneva from the 19th to the 23rd of May to discuss a number of issues to be included in a post-2015 global framework for disaster risk reduction (DRR). Wetlands International, together with our colleagues from Partners for Resilience, highlighted the need to integrate humanitarian, development and environmental approaches to build resilience – addressing not only DRR, but also climate change adaptation, livelihoods and sustainable natural resource management.

During the meeting, side event programmes and plenary interventions reflected a whole plethora of concerns from civil society, local communities, governments, scientists and other stakeholders. Issues discussed included the role of vulnerable groups, such as women, children, the disabled and the socially excluded; the health impacts of disasters; how to protect heritage from hazards; the impact of the loss of livestock during disasters; and the role of business in DRR.

The words “environment”, “ecosystem”, or even “landscape”, however, were almost absent from the plenary discussions, and were barely mentioned in the draft Chair’s summary. It was as if addressing ecosystem-related issues was too sensitive. The (extremely few) events addressing ecosystems and DRR have had to fight for a slot in the programme. And as one delegate put it, “it is not a done deal” that ecosystems will even feature in the post-2015 global framework for DRR (referred to as HFA2).

Clearly there is a disconnect between the level of interest in ecosystem-based and integrated approaches to DRR, and the attention it has received in the conference. The side events organised by the Partnership for Environment and DRR (PEDRR) were well attended and sparked interesting discussions.

For instance, at the launch of the new PEDRR book The Role of Ecosystems in Disaster Risk Reduction, to which Wetlands International contributed a chapter on dynamic river systems, panellists addressed a completely packed room. And the side event Ecosystems, resilience and DRR: presenting evidence wowed participants with amazing examples of hybrid engineering structures protecting communities in developed and developing countries.

With such consensus about the key role of ecosystem restoration and management in DRR, and the piling evidence of the cost-effectiveness of such approaches, it is indeed surprising that ecosystems were not the stars of the conference. The next meeting of the Global Platform, where the HFA2 will be agreed, will take place in Japan in 2015 – leaving us two years to bring the elephant back to the front of the room.

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