Challenges at the 7th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction

The author was supported by Oxfam to represent the Philippines in the 7th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in October.

Still feeling high from the launch of Barangay 911 – our campaign for reforms in the Philippines’ disaster risk reduction practices - during the International Day of Disaster Reduction last October 13, we, at Disaster Risk Reduction Network-Philippines (DRRNetPhils), were all gearing up for the 7th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) in New Delhi, India.

Since the beginning of the year, DRRNetPhils has been discussing the importance of the conference to its members as it is here where the Asia Regional Implementation Plan of the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction  will be agreed upon by States in the Asia-Pacific. The network also partnered up with Aksyon Klima, a national network of civil society networks and organizations working on climate issues.

Our main calls? First, address risk drivers such as poverty and rural underdevelopment.  Secondly, increase investments in disaster prevention and climate adaptation activities. Third, protect the rights of persons displaced due to disasters and climate change. Next ensure that DRR plans and development strategies are disaster and climate-risk informed. Lastly, uphold the right to development of marginalized and vulnerable communities and sectors. Overarching these key asks is the call for States to move disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and sustainable development linkages from mere rhetoric to practical application.

It is important to note that the AMCDRR went through a political process which began last year in June with the first ISDR Asia Partnership (IAP) Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand.

CSO representatives took part in this process and helped ensure that meaningful engagement with civil society, particularly children and youth, persons with disability and women were highlighted in the discussions.

During the conference proper, there were simultaneous technical sessions happening at the same. In hindsight, it would have worked best if CSOs linked up with each other at the beginning  and regrouped at the end of each day to discuss our moves.

The role of CSOs in such negotiations is crucial and one experience we had in the drafting committee, which was responsible for finalizing the political declaration and regional implementation plan of the SFDRR, proved how necessary it was for CSOs to plan together and take action.

While sessions were going on, the drafting committee convened by 3 PM, and was surprisingly open to anyone who cared to listen, unlike in the past AMCDRR. At first, it was exciting. I, and another DRRNet member, found ourselves lucky to have stumbled upon the room without anyone ejecting us. But alas, we were stunned by what was happening.

When the Philippines, who came in late, proposed that the Paris agreement be included in a provision on enhancing regional cooperation, Japan and Australia opposed this as they perceived it to be too "political" and countries were wary on how the agreement will further evolve.

The provision in question was: "Enhance regional cooperation including strengthening the role of Inter-governmental Organizations for coherent implementation of the Sendai Framework and the broader 2030 sustainable development agenda at national, sub-regional and regional levels, sharing of knowledge and experiences and fostering innovative partnerships."

We let this go thinking that climate change or the Paris agreement has been referred to earlier in the text. But we were dead wrong.  In the end, the final political declaration made no mention of the Paris Agreement nor climate change although one can argue that the climate change agenda was already included in the sustainable development goals and the term, "global frameworks." This was massively disappointing as all the talks on urgent action on climate change and the need to promote coherence among DRR, SDGs and Climate Agreement among the technical and thematic sessions were sidelined and rendered meaningless by this move.

As we stayed and finished the session until 8 PM, and attended the next sessions with Philippine government officials, we noticed a pattern of diluting and deleting the language that we wanted.

Even the language on raising awareness on sustainable development goals from the local up to the regional level that the Philippine delegation suggested was opposed. Japan almost tried to dilute the text on community-based DRR but moved on to their next recommendation. The tension in the rooms was palpable at this point.

On the last day of the conference, I couldn't help but feel disappointed and defeated with what transpired in the drafting committee sessions. A colleague explained that the rationale behind all the deletion and dilution is that delegates were only mandated to agree on DRR concerns and said that matters relating to climate change will be handled in the climate change conference in Morocco. 

To some extent, I do understand, but I found it hard to accept that there were just a few countries who asserted their voice. I think other countries were amenable, though not as assertive, to having references to climate change in the declaration, such as the Philippines. If one were to take the New Delhi Declaration as a gauge, I would say that it was a shame that a few countries got to decide the political commitment and ambition of the whole region as there were only a few countries represented in the drafting committee, such as Japan, Lao, Thailand, Iran, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Australia. 

Well, at least for the next two years. One can take comfort in the fact that come 2018, there will be another AMCDRR and hopefully by that time we would have secured allies and strengthened our negotiating muscle to come out with a political declaration that is highly reflective of the needs and aspirations of the region. It is now up to Member States to decide how far they would honor the agreed target and action plan. For now, we leave it to the climate justice movement to press on Member States for more ambitious commitments in climate change conferences.

There, the battle is even harder.