Official Journal of the European Union

C 451/152

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The post-2015 Hyogo Framework for Action: Managing risks to achieve resilience’

COM(2014) 216 final

(2014/C 451/25)


Giuseppe Iuliano

On 8 April 2014, the European Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, on the:

Communication from the Commission on the post-2015 Hyogo Framework for Action: Managing risks to achieve resilience.

COM(2014) 216 final.

The Section for External Relations, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 12 June 2014.

At its 500th plenary session, held on 9—10 July 2014 (meeting of 10 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 103 votes to 1 with 1 abstention.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations


The EESC deems it highly relevant and essential for the EU to adopt a position on disaster risk reduction (DRR) in view of the review of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) in 2015. The fact that this will coincide with other post-2015 initiatives relating to development and climate change make this position all the more relevant.


The EESC urges Member States to provide the Commission with fully disaggregated data about their countries in order to contribute to a more thorough and accurate assessment of the situation in this area.


The EESC is convinced that greater attention must be given to the underlying risk factors and root causes of disasters. The underlying factors include uncontrolled urban development, precarious rural livelihoods and the degradation of ecosystems.


A significant proportion of disaster-related human and economic losses are sustained during very frequent small-scale disasters. The EESC believes that the post-2015 HFA should give more importance to this ‘extensive risk’ while also seeking to improve the resilience of the affected communities to these types of disaster.


The EESC thinks that the economic and social impact of disasters should be studied in greater depth and that more attention should be paid to aspects such as production infrastructure.


The EESC believes that the post-2015 HFA should further develop this multi-hazard approach by also incorporating anthropogenic disasters to a far greater extent than has hitherto been the case.


Disaster risk management (DRM) should follow a rights-based approach, focus on the needs and rights of the most vulnerable groups of persons and emphasise and integrate the gender dimension.


The EESC advocates the promotion of local risk management approaches that involve local civil society organisations and regularly excluded communities. Local risk management should be more decisively incorporated.


The role of civil society organisations in DRR should also be recognised on the local as well as international level.


The business and private sectors should play an important role, incorporating DRR throughout the production cycle and contributing their innovative capacity.


Although the new post-2015 HFA should remain voluntary in nature, it should emphasise accountability and transparency systems through a set of internationally agreed indicators. These indicators should go well beyond the merely technical dimension and include social aspects.


The EESC welcomes the peer review mechanisms set up by some Member States but believes that they should be developed into more rigorous accountability systems over the medium term.


The EESC believes that the EU should establish indicative recommended minimum DRR funding percentages for its development and humanitarian policy.

2.   Reason


There is no question that the adoption of the HFA ‘Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters’ in 2005 was a milestone in the approach to disaster risk reduction. The fact that it was adopted by 168 States denotes a change in the international community's perception of an increasingly worrying situation.


Following the adoption of the HFA, the EU integrated aspects of DRR and DRM into many of its internal policies as well as in the areas of development cooperation and humanitarian assistance and, although uneven, progress has been significant.


The revision of the HFA in 2015 is therefore an opportunity for the EU to adapt its policies in this area to the new international situation and, at the same time, to contribute to the international debate on disaster risks and on better ways to address this situation.


The EESC welcomes the Commission's Communication on the post-2015 Hyogo Framework for Action: Managing risks to achieve resilience since it considers it to be particularly relevant to these times, and would like to contribute to the debate by presenting the views of the sectors of civil society that it represents.


Since the adoption of the HFA in 2005, global patterns of disaster risk have confirmed an alarming increase in risk and have forced States, international organisations, civil society organisations and society at large to redefine their positions on DRR.


All current data points towards an increase in disasters, especially those linked to hydrometeorological hazards caused by climate change. However, there are also others caused by accelerated urbanisation, poor spatial planning, the inappropriate use of land and natural resources and increased exposure to these hazards.


Needless to say, the impact of disasters varies from one region or country to another and human and economic losses depend on the level of development. However, no country or part of the world is entirely hazard free and data covering the last decades also reveal high impacts in developed countries including EU Member States.


Since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are also due for review in 2015 and there has been some progress in climate change discussions, efforts will have to be made to ensure greater consistency in the various positions on these issues and the EESC would like to play its part.

3.   New outlooks for the context and classification of disasters


The Commission's communication and above all its two annexes (1), provide a very exhaustive analysis of the hazards and risks worldwide and, more specifically, in the EU. They also give a very detailed account of EU policies with a DRR component. The EESC values the Commission's efforts to use reliable and technically robust data to present a global picture of disasters in the EU and the policies to address them.


Nevertheless, the EESC regrets that the comprehensive overview of disasters in the EU relies on direct data from only 16 Member States and Norway. The EESC urges the Member States that have yet to provide their disaggregated data to take immediate steps to contribute to these efforts to obtain a hazard and disaster assessment for the EU that is as clear and as accurate as possible.


At the global level, studies carried out by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) reveal that it is not the major disasters with a massive media impact but the ‘small disasters’, that are most frequent, and that cause most human and economic losses with the greatest impact on the daily lives of millions of people and communities worldwide. The EESC believes that the post-2015 HFA should place more emphasis on the ‘extensive risk’ (2) associated with this type of event in contrast with the ‘intensive risk’ approach which used to predominate. Furthermore, the attention given to these more frequent but small-scale disasters should open the way to improving the resilience of the affected communities. The EESC recommends giving more attention to the local impact of this type of disaster.


Despite the numerous studies on the economic impact of disasters, the costs in terms of jobs, working conditions and decent work, impact on employers, the production base fabric, etc. are rarely analysed. The EESC thinks that these aspects should be studied in greater depth and that more attention should be paid to aspects such as production infrastructure (3).


Moreover, the data available shows that many disasters are the outcome of a combination of hazards and do not have a single cause. This confirms the need for a multi-hazard assessment and a more holistic approach to disasters and their complexity. The ‘complex emergency’ concept, which is well-established in the humanitarian sector, could serve to avoid simplistic ideas about the causes of disasters, which can occasionally lead to equally simplistic responses. Although the main strategies following the adoption of the HFA focused on natural or anthropogenic non-malicious hazards, the evidence shows that violence in marginalised urban neighbourhoods, lack of governance and various types of conflict are included among the anthropogenic factors that aggravate disasters and should be taken into account. The EESC believes that the post-2015 HFA should take a more holistic approach to these conflict- and violence-related factors. Technological hazards and ‘triple disasters’ (convergence of an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident) such as occurred in Fukushima also require a more decisive approach.


The EESC is also convinced that greater attention must be given to the underlying risk factors and root causes of disasters. All assessments and reviews of the HFA indicate that the priority to ‘reduce the underlying risk factors’ is the one where least progress has been made (4).

4.   A rights-based approach to disaster risk management with a special focus on the most vulnerable local communities


Despite progress since the adoption of the HFA, DRM has not adequately incorporated a rights-based approach. This includes instances where references to the vulnerability and differential rights of certain groups have helped to aggravate their vulnerability by failing to recognise that they also have abilities. This is what happened, for example, as a consequence of simplistic perceptions of the gender-based approach. The EESC believes that an approach based on people, their rights, equality, the right to protection, but also the right to sustainable development, including environmental sustainability, should feature more prominently as principles of the post-2015 HFA. Issues pertaining to gender, rights-based approaches and vulnerable groups should be incorporated into the set of indicators used to monitor the post-2015 HFA and the accountability mechanisms established. Civil society organisations, especially those that promote and defend women's rights and gender parity or represent vulnerable groups, should be invited more often to attend and take part in DRR discussions.


Experience shows that initiatives that are local or take a local approach are more likely and better able to reach vulnerable communities. The EESC advocates the promotion of local risk management approaches that involve local civil society organisations and regularly excluded communities. This implies a shift towards local risk management systems that make it possible to establish the necessary institutional mechanisms. National and internationally supported initiatives should prioritise the funding of local risk management activities.


Recognising that it is and should be States that adopt and implement the HFA and that the success or failure of the post-2015 HFA will depend on their political will, the EESC emphasises the need to involve all local municipal bodies, councils, civil society organisations, NGOs, academic institutions, business sectors and trade union organisations in the development of DRM plans or similar instruments. The current disconnect between the local and other higher administrative tiers inhibits the capacity of the communities directly affected by a hazard to take immediate action. This is particularly important in developing countries with weak institutional structures.


Businesses and the private sector have a key role to play in DRR, not only through public-private partnerships or corporate social responsibility, but also by contributing innovation and experience and incorporating concepts of resilience, mitigation and adaptation into the entire production process. The communication refers to insurance. However, this must be combined with clearer references to the imperative need to reduce risk in order to be able to generate productive development.


Bearing in mind the particular circumstances likely to arise in each case, the EESC believes that EU internal policies and external action should offer wider scope for civil society participation in international DRM and local risk management.


The EESC would emphasise that both the formal and non-formal education sectors are effective channels to raise awareness and enable people to respond more efficiently to disasters. Civil society organisations can play an important role in this area, which is not covered in the formal curriculum.

5.   Towards an accountability and transparency framework for the post-2015 HFA goals and progress indicators


The EESC generally supports the Commission communication's ‘principles for the new framework’ with respect to accountability and the indicators. The current HFA monitoring system is very weak and has not made it possible to measure progress properly. In fact, many EU Member States have not submitted timely and accurate data and do not have robust and reliable databases on these issues. Due to the public and political sensitivity of disasters, it is particularly necessary to establish credible and transparent accountability instruments in the area of DRR.


The EESC welcomes the peer review mechanisms set up by some Member States and believes that they should be replicated across the board as a way forward. The EESC believes that the EU needs to be more ambitious in the medium to long term when it comes to improving data collection from Member States in order to ensure that the data is comparable and accessible, not only to NGOs, but also to civil society, the media, academics, the scientific community and other interested groups.


In any event, the post-2015 HFA should develop a system of common indicators making it easier to measure the progress and compliance achieved by countries and other operators. Without going into detail, the EESC supports the efforts of civil society organisations with respect to indicators and is convinced that they should go beyond the merely technical and technocratic aspects in order to include social factors, resilience and participation (5).


Transparency and accountability should also encourage stakeholder dialogue on DRR between official bodies, political institutions, civil society organisations, the private and business sectors academic institutions, etc.

6.   Consistency between the agendas for development, climate change and DRR


In a world as interconnected and as interdependent as the one we live in, it is paradoxical that it is so difficult to link international ‘agendas’ on issues that are, by definition, closely connected. The fact that various climate change, development and DRR initiatives are set to coincide in 2015 presents an opportunity which the EU must seize in order to promote this consistency at the international level. Enhancing consistency has many implications, inter alia, for concepts, institutions and priorities, which will have to be broached from the perspective of the experiences of the affected communities and in the knowledge that development, climate change and disaster management cannot continue to be compartmentalised. The EESC supports international efforts to define common criteria and indicators for the SDGs and the post-2015 HFA.


In view of the significant role that climate change plays in the growing frequency and intensity of hazards (especially hydrometeorological hazards), not to mention the goals that are common to DRR and CCA (climate change adaptation), coordination between the bodies that promote the development and implementation of legislation in these areas must be significantly increased.


The post-2015 HFA should spell out more clearly the links between disasters and development, which can be very diverse and complex. Well-designed development can reduce risks but can also increase them, as is often seen. Similarly, the links between climate change and disasters are complex and interdependent. The EESC agrees that concepts and strategies such as the resilience approach can be useful when it comes to addressing these interactions.


At the same time, the EESC would like to stress the need to address links between traditional DRR and the security agenda. Until now the HFA has focused mainly on natural disasters but other hazards and situations involving violence, conflict or disputes over resources point to the need to initiate this convergence. The concept of human security addresses this situation and its usefulness in this sector should be studied.

7.   DRR financing and EU commitment


The absence of a ‘culture of prevention’ means that EU internal or external policies have not prioritised DRR and risk prevention, mitigation or disaster preparedness. As the communication explains, a few programmes (DIPECHO (6)) have broken new ground. However, they have been underfunded. The EESC believes that the EU should establish indicative recommended minimum DRR funding percentages for its development and humanitarian policy, in line with the practices of other donors (7). To this end, Member States would have to establish financial monitoring tools for DRR activities which could be incorporated in development policies and humanitarian action.

Brussels, 10 July 2014.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  Commission Staff Working Documents: Overview of natural and man-made disaster risks in the EU (SWD(2014) 134 final). EU policies contributing to Disaster Risk Management (SWD(2014) 133 final).

(2)  UNISDR studies show that 90 % of disaster-related losses worldwide are due to these extensive disasters. (UNISDR Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR) 2013).

(3)  A deeper analysis of this issue has recently been launched. ‘The Labour Market Impacts of Natural and Environmental Disasters’. ADAPT (Italy) and The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training. http://moodle.adaptland.it/mod/page/view.php?id=9533

(4)  The HFA outlines five priorities for action: (1): ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation, (2) identify, assess, and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning, (3) use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels, (4) reduce the underlying risk factors, (5) strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels.

(5)  Joint Civil Society Position on a Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The document is based on the guidelines set out in the UNISDR's ‘Proposed Elements for Consideration in the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction’ (December 2013).

(6)  DIPECHO (Disaster Preparedness ECHO) is a DRR programme launched by the European Commission's DG ECHO in 1996.

(7)  The following report sets out DRR financing options and experiences: http://www.odi.org.uk/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/8574.pdf