By H.E. Dr. Siga Fatima Jagne, Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, ECOWAS; and Njoya Tikum, Manager, Sub-Regional Hub for West and Central Africa, UNDP

People carry their belongings while walking in a street flooded by the waters from the Niger river that flooded in the Kirkissoye neighborhood in Niamey on August 27, 2020. ©Boureima Hama/AFP for USAID

An urgent reminder to increase ambition and cooperation on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation

At the beginning of August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the latest synthesis report on climate change, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres sounded the alarm pointing to an even faster and stronger climate crisis than feared. According to the Paris Agreement, the threshold of +1.5°C - the ideal objective not to be exceeded – could thus be reached around 2030, ten years earlier than estimated with the devastating effects - droughts, fires, and floods – already being felt globally.

In Africa, climate change-related disasters in the context of multiple crises such as conflict, famine and epidemics are felt disproportionately and made worse with the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left an estimated 23 million people in poverty[1].

To date, an estimated 4% of Africa’s population have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, calling for an urgent solidarity effort. WHO had set a global vaccination target of 10% by the end of September, but by that date, 56 countries had not been able to do so, the vast majority of them in Africa and the Middle East.

From Niger to the Congo Basin, two of Africa’s largest rivers, we have seen how households are impoverished by natural disasters. Those affected who are rarely compensated and rehoused fall into the vicious cycle of poverty, with some moving into areas that are traps for future disasters.

In the western Sahel, in Nouakchott, Dakar or Niamey, scenes of devastating floods have become sadly familiar during short rainy seasons for three consecutive years. This year, the toll was particularly tragic in Niger, where at least 64 people drowned or died when their homes collapsed. More than 211,000 people have been affected by the rains since June. 

Despite the dramatic repetition of these disasters, their anticipation remains low. The population of the Sahel, which is more concerned about a potential lack of water than about excess rainfall in previous decades, appears to be inadequately prepared for extreme rainfall events. Understanding the different facets of disaster risk through transboundary data exchange will help us build the future with equity.

While the majority of 55 African Union member states have adopted the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Paris Agreement (2015), many low- and middle-income countries need international cooperation and support to achieve its targets, including for strengthening multi-hazard early warning capabilities, improving communication with local governments and communities, and for public investment decision-making that enhance resilience of vulnerable populations. 

Through initiatives such as the Sahel Resilience Project, we are working with regional organizations to strengthen risk governance and the systemic adaptation to climate change and local events while assessing national commitments in the Programme of Action of African Union member states in the Sendai Framework – the international blueprint for disaster risk reduction 2015-2030 – in Sahelian countries.

Through the United Nations Development Programme and its partnership with Sweden, the African Union and ECOWAS are equipped to mobilize regional actors – political, scientific and technical – to manage disaster risk reduction in Africa and the Western Sahel sub-region. Impressive milestones have already been achieved in a short period, including the completion of three flagship studies that will be available in November:

  • Assessment of the domestication of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (SFDRR) and the Programme of Action for Africa by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) under the auspices of the African Union Commission.
  • Comprehensive assessment of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and the role of disaster risk governance in the Western Sahel and Lake Chad Basin region by Data-Pop Alliance, under the auspices of ECOWAS.
  • Comprehensive assessment of the status of multi-hazard early warning systems (MHEWS) in Africa by CIMA Foundation under the auspices of the African Union.

At the national level, the Sahel Resilience Project is working to strengthen disaster risk reduction platforms and data collection in the seven partner countries, namely Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal. They have also developed a rich and varied set of tools to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic ranging from alert platforms to impact studies and support to SMEs to produce protective masks.

At the World Meteorological Organization, 193 members have early warning systems, but there are still severe gaps in Africa’s multi-hazard warning systems and meteorological and hydrological observation networks. With the CIMA Foundation and longer-term support from Italy, the African Union has developed a framework of action, which will lead to the establishment of multi-hazard early warning systems in member states over seven years and a continental warning centre at the African Union Commission shortly.

The struggle of many developing countries to manage the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need to integrate health threats into national and local disaster risk reduction strategies, support the implementation of the International Health Regulations, and build resilient societies.

Regional collaboration in the context of the pandemic culminated on 20 April with the launch of a collaborative endeavour between the African Union Commission, UNDP, other UN agencies and the African Development Bank to support the development of a COVID-19 recovery framework for Africa. The framework guides resilient socio-economic recovery efforts at the continental, regional and national levels from a multi-risk perspective, creating preconditions for building resilient societies in Africa.

Once in place, this framework will ensure that AU member states integrate essential public health and sanitary risk management functions into disaster risk management to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from similar crises in the future.  Defining a Pan-African approach to effective socio-economic recovery from COVID-19 is at the heart of the COVID-19 Recovery Framework for Africa.

The framework, which will provide AU member states and RECs with continental leadership and guidance for a comprehensive post-COVID-19 recovery, emerged from a concept note that the Sahel Resilience Project worked on in cooperation with the African Union Commission’s Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment (ARBE) during the first quarter. 

Whether natural or conflict- or disaster-induced, population displacement has placed increased pressure on the Sahel’s border cities. This urbanization occurs in an unplanned and unmanaged manner, resulting in increased vulnerability of populations and infrastructure to multiple risks. National and local governments have weak capacities to regulate urban land use and development patterns and lack adequate resources to integrate effective urban risk reduction across sectors. 

For the first time on the ground in such a large region, UNDP and UN-Habitat are jointly looking at the ongoing transformations shaping urban resilience to shocks and stresses. Made possible by the comprehensive framework for collaborative work signed between the two agencies in December 2020, this ambitious initiative will be co-financed for one year through a new partnership developed with the Sahel Resilience Project, to be announced this month. 

In practice, the Sahel Resilience Project and UN-Habitat will jointly conduct an integrated spatial assessment at the regional level to better understand the ongoing transformation shaping urban resilience in the region and deploy UN-Habitat’s CityRAP (City Resilience Action Planning) training as a basis for local planning with municipal authorities, communities, and local actors in seven Sahel partner countries.

African countries that have developed policy, legislative frameworks, institutional architecture and associated investment vehicles for disaster risk reduction in line with the goal, targets and priorities for action of the Sendai Framework have a greater capacity to manage and reduce disaster risk. Many developing countries lack the capacity or resources to adequately design these strategies that, if acted on, can help lay the foundations for success in achieving several of the SDGs, including eradicating poverty, curbing climate change while adapting to its impacts and building sustainable cities and communities. COVID-19 has also made it clear that nobody is safe until we are all safe. Therefore, international support for disaster risk reduction is, more than a moral obligation, an essential requirement to build the resilience of our international community and planet together.

[1] World Bank

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Message of Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction


The Sendai Seven campaign is in its 6th year after the UN Secretary-General launched it in 2016. Each year on 13 October, the focus has been on one of the seven targets of the Sendai Framework agreed by UN member states at a global conference on DRR in Sendai, Japan.

In summary, the seven targets focus on (a) reducing disaster mortality, (b) reducing the number of people affected by disasters, (c) reducing direct economic losses, and (d) reducing damage to critical infrastructure. The targets for achieving these disaster loss reductions are: (e) increasing the number of national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction; (f) strengthening international cooperation for developing countries; and (g) improving the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems.

This year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction focuses on target (f): “To significantly enhance international cooperation in favour of developing countries through adequate and sustained support to complement their national efforts to implement the present Framework by 2030.”


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