UN leads Asia-Pacific closer to universal standards for disaster statistics

Senior experts from governments, academia and international organizations this week reached a milestone towards better disaster risk management in Asia and the Pacific, at a United Nations led meeting in Sendai, Japan. Concerned by the frequency of natural disasters occurring in the region, the experts agreed on the core principles for establishing a common basic range of disaster-related statistics.

Over the past three decades, almost 1.2 million people in Asia and the Pacific have lost their lives to disasters, and efforts to manage disaster risks in Asia and the Pacific, as well as in the rest of the world, have long been hampered by the lack of timely, reliable, and comparable statistics, mainly due to the absence of common standards.

Earlier this year, governments of the region decided to act to close this gap and established the Expert Group on Disaster-related Statistics in Asia and the Pacific. Developing a set of common standards would allow more precise risk assessment across the region and help governments in evidence-based policymaking which provides the right support and infrastructure to manage the risks of disasters.

The group’s first meeting was held in Sendai, from 27 to 29 October 2014 by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia (ESCAP), the Tohoku University and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with the Government of Japan and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

In his opening remarks, Mr. Kilaparti Ramakrishna, Director of ESCAP’s East and North-East Asia Office (ESCAP-ENEA) said: "With climate change, the frequency and severity of extreme weather events are expected to rise. This means, there is a tremendous need for better disaster risk management for society and the environment."

Ms. Shamika Sirimanne, Director of ESCAP’s Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division emphasized: “The success of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda highly depends on disaster risk reduction. Previous development gains, particularly in low income countries, are often rolled back due to natural disasters.”

Mr. Anisuzzaman Chowdhury, Director of ESCAP’s Statistics Division added: “Agreeing on a basic range of disaster related statistics, which the Expert Group has taken the first step towards this week, will be a major contribution from Asia and the Pacific region to establishing accountability and monitoring frameworks for the post-2015 development agenda.”

Professor Susumu Satomi, President of Tohoku University also highlighted the importance of internationally agreed standards for official statistics, stating that: “Without statistical standards, governments can only infer but have no way to determine with certainty the extent to which disaster events inflict damage and losses to the hard-earned fruit of development in their countries.”

Responding to the call by governments of the region, the Expert Group set a plan to urgently develop agreed statistical standards suitable for the region on the occurrence and impacts of disasters suitable for the region by 2016.