Friday, June 6, 2014

‘Tacloban Declaration': From where to where?

This is my response to the ‘Tacloban Declaration' (TD) initiative that the President of Philippines Mr. Benigno Aquino III has embarked upon to address disaster risk reduction based on the experience of Haiyan.

The President of Philippines Mr. Benigno Aquino III has embarked upon a timely but ambitious initiative of coming up with a ‘Tacloban Declaration' to address disaster risks as an outcome of Asia-Europe Meeting Manila Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management which has just finished in Manila (4-6 June 2014).

Going by the face value, we should judge this initiative as a very good one, probably the first time ever a developing Asian country thought of coming up with a major declaration addressing disaster risks. Traditionally, it has always been Japan which has taken leadership among Asian countries when it comes to either environmental initiatives or disaster risk reduction or climate change. The president’s initiative is also very timely considering that the Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA) will expire in 2015. However, probably this is where the gala of praise ends.

The Conference Center in Kobe where the HFA took a shape in 2005

.       Who are the Players: The major question raises is the critical mass that is required to launch an initiative like this. At ASEM 2015, what we are looking at is a small fraction of the World DRR experts participating in this venture (around 150 government officials, academics and policy makers) compared to the broad representation based on which the Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA) was designed. Long preparation, credibility of the forum etc. made HFA distinctive and appealing. When HFA was drafted, the 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction was attended by hundreds of practitioners, government officials and academics engaged in DRR representing most countries. For example, the WCDR 2005 consisted of intergovernmental segment participated by nearly 160 governments, thematic segments and public forum and the discussions from all these segments were culminated into what is called HFA. So, to replace HFA, we need equally or more thorough process.

2.       History matters but it has more to it: HFA was built upon the Yokohama strategy (1994) which was more of guidelines for natural disaster preparedness, prevention and mitigation and focused on enhancing national and local capabilities to manage and reduce risk. The Yokohama Strategy taught us a lesson that such processes require greater involvement of local communities in all aspects of DRR, scarcity of resources from development budgets etc. As a consequence, what HFA did was to address all the lessons that YS has taught us. This takes me to my next observation.

3.       The devil is in the details: Now, I am saying this without much details on how ASEM will handle in terms of bringing in all the experiences we had since 2005, what would be the coverage of this declaration (or regional or global) and what preparations have gone into it including considering consultations that are already happening for feeding into designing the post-HFA process. The UNISDR has already started online consultations and has already come up with several thematic papers to inputs to design the post-HFA mechanism. It would be good to know if ASEM has already taken these inputs into consideration for coming up with the declaration.

4.       It is players again: Even if a well worded TD comes out of the ASEM 2015, what is the guarantee that it will be adopted by all the nation states and what would be its status under UN? What about the needed finances? Would TD be able to secure needed finances to push its agenda or it will remain as yet another declaration?

5.       Where we want to see the declaration going? As for me, I strongly believe that the Tacloban Declaration be supportive of the post-HFA process, contribute to it rather than duplicate it and help in pulling consensus for coming up with a strong and effective post-HFA process? Did the president had this in his mind when he supported the idea of coming up with Tacloban Declaration declaration is the question to be answered.