An update from Mami Mizutori, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction — 13 July 2020

In the newsletter circulated by United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction Mami Mizutori writes about the lessons brought about by the COVID crisis: with good governance being at the heart of disaster resilience and the need for better recovery strategies that are climate-conscious and environmentally sustainable.

I have been thinking, writing, and talking a lot about good governance recently and how its absence can drive disaster risk.

COVID-19 has driven home the understanding that without good disaster risk governance it is extremely difficult to manage any other underlying drivers of disaster risk. The most glaring example of this is the continued failure to make progress on tackling the climate emergency, notably the continuing rise in greenhouse gas emissions as we ignore the catastrophe in waiting if we stay on the current path towards 3˚C or more in global warming. I was glad to have the opportunity to announce on the first day of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in my keynote remarks for the ‘Virtual Side Event on Water-related DRR under the COVID-19 Pandemic’ that the focus of this year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on October 13 will be on disaster risk governance. This is in the context of promoting target E of the Sendai Framework which seeks a substantial increase in the number of national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020.

Failure to act on the science and warnings about the threat of a pandemic were at the heart of the inertia to prepare for COVID-19 in many countries despite the inclusion — at the insistence of UN member States — of biological hazards and risks (including pandemics) in the Sendai Framework five years ago.

Since then only a few national disaster risk reduction strategies have taken pandemics into account, a point I made again during my participation earlier this month in The Economist magazine’s podcast The World Ahead.

You can be rest assured that our Regional Offices are working hard to redress this and to support governments to put in place DRR strategies which recognise the multi-hazard and systemic nature of disaster risk.


Speaking at another event hosted by the HLPF focused on sustaining efforts to switch to sustainable energy, I made the point that there is no doubt that fossil fuels are a major contributor to the alarming levels of increasingly systemic disaster risk across the world.

The five years since the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction was adopted have been the hottest on record, and the number of extreme weather events has almost doubled over the last twenty years.

Many countries are now challenged with responding to extreme weather events such as cyclones, drought and storms while struggling to contain COVID-19. A key guiding principle of the Sendai Framework is to ensure that all new investments are risk-informed to avoid the creation of new disaster risk.

This is especially important for energy sector infrastructure which in turn supports other critical infrastructure on which societies depend.

We need to recover better from the COVID-19 pandemic, and that requires political commitment and ambition to fight climate change, and a wholesale switch to sustainable energy.

We look to the G20 nations, responsible for almost 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, to lead by example.


Work is now underway in UNDRR to pull together the initial learnings we have been able to gather on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic as it currently stands and make it readily accessible in a user-friendly format. We know that the pandemic is far from over but the better we know what has worked well and what hasn’t thus far will help us in tackling the next phases, reducing its impact and recovering faster and better.

In the meantime, you can catch up here on the informative series of webinars that we have been running with partners since the onset of the pandemic.


Mexico is one of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19. Over 30,000 people have lost their lives and there are over 270,000 confirmed cases, in the country which is in a region which has now become the epicentre of the pandemic. Many people are finding it hard to make a living and businesses are struggling to stay afloat as preventive measures are introduced.

UNDRR’s Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean has signed a “Resilience Protocol” which is a collaborative agreement with ARISE Mexico and the Confederation of National Chambers of Commerce, Services and Tourism aimed to support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises which are so important to employment.

ARISE Mexico is part of UNDRR’s worldwide Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies (ARISE) which recognizes the need to better integrate risk into business practices and decisions, as well as generate networks of support with different partners like Chambers of Commerce.


UNDRR’s newly appointed Director, Ricardo Mena, delivered a statement to the HLPF under the theme “protecting the planet and building resilience” in which he highlighted the fact that less than half of UN member States have developed national and local disaster risk reduction strategies since the adoption of the Sendai Framework five years ago.

His statement concluded: “Disaster risk governance requires clear vision, plans, competence, guidance and coordination within and across sectors, and full engagement with civil society.

An important way of measuring disaster risk governance is against key targets of the Sendai Framework including reducing loss of life, reducing the numbers of people affected and reducing economic losses.

COVID-19 has been an enormous setback for the efforts of many countries in achieving these targets with serious implications for efforts to achieve the SDGs.

UNDRR urges UN Member States to put in place national and local disaster risk reduction strategies which recognise the fact that disaster risk is systemic in nature and widespread across all sectors and development processes.”

* * *


I hope that you will find this update useful and informative.
If you would like more information about UNDRR’s many activities, please do visit and please — stay safe and well.

‘Pandemics do not recognise borders, so a united international response is vital under the guidance of WHO’

Source: The Times of India | Date: March 23, 2020

UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) head Mami Mizutori has been an advocate of a comprehensive approach to deal with disasters, backed by international collaboration. She explains this approach to Pradeep Thakur in the context of the Covid-19 outbreak:

The global attention on Covid-19 is unprecedented. Is this because the rich are more affected?

Like many disease outbreaks, Covid-19 does not distinguish between rich and poor. There is worldwide attention on it because it threatens every country regardless of development status. Disasters affect all, however disasters don’t affect everyone equally and in the case of Covid-19, it is also true. This is why, developed countries with more resources available to respond to the outbreak will need to attend first and foremost to the safety and well-being of their own citizens, but there also must be international support to low- and middle-income countries that are struggling to cope with the outbreak. Pandemics do not recognise borders so a united international response is vital under the leadership and guidance of the World Health Organization.

We have seen Ebola and bird flu. How different is Covid-19?

Covid-19 is not an epidemic confined to a few countries. It has been declared a pandemic by the WHO. There is a crucial difference. The list of countries reporting outbreaks is growing daily. There is no nation on Earth that can claim to be immune from the threat. Thousands have died and many more thousands are fighting for their lives in hospitals around the world. We are still in the early stages of the pandemic. It is urgent that countries which have yet to experience the full brunt of the disease should observe and learn from those who have been most impacted, notably China, Italy, Iran and the Republic of Korea. There are many lessons we can learn from these countries.

How can India effectively deal with risks arising out of disasters?

India has a very robust policy on disaster risk management, and this is evident from its zero tolerance approach to casualties in disaster events and its full embrace of the Sendai Framework. The Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019, and supported by UNDRR emphasises the importance of public health infrastructure.

India does not see the Covid-19 outbreak as simply a health issue but has taken an all-of-government, all-of-society approach which is very much in the spirit of the Sendai Framework. The public health authorities are working closely with bodies such as the NDMA and government ministries responsible for civil aviation and shipping and the production of textiles including protective materials such as masks.

India is also using mobile technology in a smart way that could be adopted by other countries. Anyone making a mobile phone call must listen to a health message in the language of their choice before their call commences. This is a great way of communicating with a population of 1.3 billion people.

India is also showing leadership at the regional level. I understand also that while the number of cases currently is low, India is stepping up its response and surveillance capacity and mapping its resources. At the same time, it has made donations to a regional response fund and expressed its willingness to help other nations with their response. This is international solidarity of the highest order and I can only commend India for its approach.

Could Europe and the US have handled things better?

Hindsight is a great teacher. The Covid-19 outbreak is a step into the unknown. Nobody could reasonably claim to have been fully prepared for what is unfolding now across the globe. I would like to call attention to a critical observation about the changing nature of risk, which UNDRR highlighted in the Global Assessment of Risk report published in May 2019. GAR 2019 is very clear that risk is increasingly systemic. We are seeing this with Covid-19 rattling the global economy. The only way of fighting systemic risk is with a joined-up systemic prevention and response approach. This means that we cannot work in silos, we must map and model how risk cascades into other risks, and importantly we must be able to work trans-boundary, in a unified fashion and not take nationalistic stances to risks – which, as we very well know, are no respecters of borders.

Many countries have curtailed economic activities. How should governments mitigate the impact?

Poverty eradication is the No 1 sustainable development goal. In this current crisis it is important that provision is made for those who are especially vulnerable. This can take many forms including cash payments, emergency shelter and food distribution programmes. The most important thing is that the poor be consulted about their needs and be included in the response planning process.

NRC partners attend international workshop on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction

From July 31 to August 3, around 38 representatives from 19 countries gathered at Jeju-do, South Korea for the four-day training-workshop on “Developing Capacities on Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction in Asia-Pacific Region.”

The workshop was organized by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) affiliated International Training Centre for Authorities in Leaders in Jeju (CIFAL Jeju) in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disaster Reduction Office for Northeast Asia and Global Education Training Institute (UNISDR ONEA-GETI), United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the United Nations Project Office on Governance (UNPOG).

Col. Mario Verner Monsanto exchanging insights with workshop facilitator Ms. Ana Thorlund of UNISDR.

The event was a forum for knowledge sharing, as well as learning sessions on developing local disaster risk reduction plans and applying tools for Making Cities Resilient Campaign.

Two of the five representatives from the Philippines were from NRC LGU Partners namely Cagayan de Oro City Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Officer (CDRRMO) Col. Mario Verner Monsanto and Zamboanga City CDRRM Officer Dr. Elmeir Antonio.

Dr. Apolinario found the workshop helpful, especially “The small group discussions and information exchanges—formal and informal—among participants.”

Regarding lessons from the workshop that will greatly benefit his city, Monsanto chose the formulation of scorecards for each of the 10 Essentials of Making Cities Resilient of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

“These scorecards are complimentary to the NRC Resilient Local Government Systems Scorecard as it can be used to assess the resilience of each and every barangay,” Monsanto elaborated. “The resilience of my city is only as strong as the weakest barangay that compose my city.”

Dr. Antonio also saw its importance as it is critical for cities to integrate it to the overall disaster risk reduction planning process and mainstream it into urban development planning and design.

Col. Mario Verner Monsanto sharing the resilience journey of Cagayan de Oro City.

Monsanto was happy to note that workshop facilitators and fellow representatives lauded the Philippines for its efforts in disaster risk reduction. Dr. Apolinario pointed out that being disaster-prone compels the Philippines to do all it can to reduce and manage disaster, mentioning national efforts in policy making such as the Climate Change Act of 2009 and the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010. The local government, on the other hand,has pushed for setting up Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Offices (LDRRMOs) that can directly work with national agencies.

Workshop participants during the welcome dinner.

Despite all the work the government has been putting into DRR, both Monsanto and Dr. Apolinario acknowledge there is still a lot to be done. To name a few, Dr. Apolinario mentioned stronger infrastructure, well-coordinated Early Warning Systems (EWS) that come with communication protocol for the stakeholders involved, intensified Information,Education, and Communication (IEC) campaigns for the communities and comprehensive plans for proper environment and natural resources management.

Dr. Elmeir Apolinario at the closing ceremony.

Monsanto also emphasized that DRR is not the job of the government and its partners alone. “The general public has to be involved. [They have] to be drawn in. And this can be attained if they are informed and empowered.”

Cagayan de Oro City and Zamboanga City are among the local government partners of the National Resilience Council (NRC)—a science and technology-based evidence-informed public-private partnership capacitating the local government in disaster resilience—for the Resilient LGU Program, a three-year initiative that involves creating and implementing a Resilience Scorecard for a prepared, adapted and transformed LGU.

Special thanks to the following for providing their insights:

Cagayan de Oro City Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Officer (CDRRMO) Col. Mario Verner Monsanto; and Zamboanga City CDRRM Officer Dr. Elmeir Antonio.

Photos courtesy of Col. Mario Verner Monsanto and Dr. Elmeir Apolinario