In the wake of Cyclone Pam – never have the relevant felt so irrelevant

By Timothy Ingram

As the devastating news about the impact of Cyclone Pam on Vanuatu unfolds, I am sat in the negotiation room of the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai Japan. This United Nations (UN) conference was established to develop a new framework to address the global issue of disaster risk reduction and build on the success of the original Hyogo Framework for Action launched in 2005. This new Framework will represent a voluntary agreement by UN Member States (of which the United Kingdom is one) on global policies to combat the increasing risk of disasters across the world. Cyclone Pam has brought all this into stark focus.


What has been so encouraging since our arrival in Sendai last Thursday has been the diverse civil society attendance, with over 2000 delegates travelling to Sendai to share knowledge, experiences and a vision for the future of disaster risk reduction (DRR) in their countries. It has been a honour to be part of this and to meet so many passionate individuals working hard all around the world to improve communities resilience to disasters. The turnout from the UN has also been strong with 186 delegations registered to participate in negotiations on the new framework.

The inconvenient truth

If the civil society engagement has been the highlight of the conference, along with the wonderful hospitality of the City of Sendai, the lowlight has been the treatment in negotiations of those that matter most. It’s been shocking to witness the relevancy of ‘stakeholders’ involvement in decision making processes for national plans on DRR being called into question during the negotiations taking place in the Tachibana Hall.

The stakeholders that the conference is referring to are those affected by disasters – that means every individual, business and organisation that inhabits the natural environment of a country regardless of location, gender, ethnicity or religion. All these have an interest in the prevention of disaster and resilience of their country, community and homes.

Putting communities first

The very fact that the right of these individuals to input into the formation of disaster preparedness plans and policies to protect them from disasters such as Cyclone Pam or the Great East Japan Earthquake, is being questioned demonstrates the failing of the UN Member States to realise what this agreement should be about. This Framework should be about those stakeholders now having to rebuild their homes, lives and communities in the aftermath of disasters. This Framework should be about those stakeholders who know they are vulnerable and are hoping that they will not be next. This Framework should be about those stakeholders, both individuals and local organisations, who have the capacity and knowledge to strengthen national plans, improve community resilience and mobilise a vast number of volunteers to support the work of national and local governments. This Framework should demonstrate how a global society can come together, put politics aside and do what is needed to ensure that adequate support on disaster resilience is in place to: in short to lessen the need for humanitarian aid. This Framework should be about you.

A joined up Civil Society for lasting change

If these pressing issues are not tackled before the closure of the conference on Wednesday 18th March  then  the final agreed text may end up being just words on paper. A coalition of over 1000 global NGOs, including Tearfund, have come together to express their discontent with this process to date and concerns for the strength of the agreement to come. It is important that this is listened to and acted on before the close of the negotiations. See the press statement here: NGOs lament limited political commitment to funding disaster risk reduction plans.

However, while we will continue to push for an improved agreement at this conference, civil society, representing ordinary people around the world, has already begun to focus on how they can join together to affect real change on the front-line. It is this action that will be the true legacy of Sendai regardless of how negotiations conclude.



  1. Nice post Timothy. It sadly seems all too easy for some to repeatedly mention a need for local solutions for local problems and talk about ‘community-based’ drr – yet gloss over it when it matters. Governments perhaps want it both ways – decentralisation of risk management/drr with increasing responsibility on the individual (i.e with UK flooding), contrasted against a lack of policy-based empowerment for locally derived solutions, even though evidence suggests that is where resilience starts 😦

    DRR, Climate change, sustainable development and building a ‘resilient’ society are all post-normal problems – and really need to be opened up for the meaningful participation of all citizens.

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