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by Stephane Guerard

Whilst Vanuatu cries for help, the UN fails miserably to respond

Translated Sunday 22 March 2015, by Philippa Griffin

In the wake of the havoc wrought in Vanuatu by Cyclone Pam, the UN conference designed to mitigate the risks of natural disasters stopped woefully short of a sufficient outcome.

On Friday, March 13th, the “Monster Cyclone” Pam” inflicted utter destruction upon the Pacific island of Vanuatu. President Baldwin Lonsdale has issued so many pleas for aid for his country, raised so many alarms regarding the inevitable increase in natural disasters as the world warms, that it is surprising he has not already lost his voice. Lonsdale and his counterpart presidents of the Pacific micro-states have toiled blood, sweat and tears to ensure that the UN conference designed to mitigate the risks of natural disasters – at which Lonsdale was present when the Pacific archipelago was ravaged by the cyclone – did not fail to produce a succession of rigorous, binding commitments backed by all participants, as previous conferences have failed to deliver (see article in l’Humanité, 13th March 2015). In spite of this, the final negotiations to craft the protocol evidenced a repetition of such failure.

Global natural disasters: an annual cost of $250 billion

The international conference, hosted by Japan, is not even expected to achieve a consensus, a failure whose consequences are laid bare by the tragic example of Vanuatu. Rachel Kyte, who heads the World Bank’s Climate Change Division, put forward the following suggestion: “We have perhaps helped island populations to protect themselves against the spells of harsh weather that has been typical of the past, but to buffer oneself against a cyclone whose gusts exceed 300km/hour is something else altogether. We must begin to change our investment plans to spend more upfront (for example, on the construction of solid infrastructure, alert systems) which will allow numerous lives to be saved and which will save a considerable amount when it comes to reconstruction.” However, humanitarian organizations are not so convinced: Aurélie Ceinos, from Care France, believes that this simple strategy is no better than a damp squib. “The underlying causes of natural disasters, such as climate change and uncontrolled urbanisation, do not even appear in the final protocol, and many statistics pointing to the role of such factors have been diluted.” The protocol does not contain a single binding commitment, nor does it compel wealthy countries to supply financial aid or provide suitable investments to poorer countries. Paul Scott, of Oxfam America, expresses his regret that “in Japan, governments have declared that they will need to do more in the future. But without commitments to finance such efforts, there is a risk that the ambition seemingly expressed by all present will come to nothing, with the poorest countries paying the heaviest price.” The need for funds to mitigate the risks of natural disasters has never been more pressing. A UN report estimates the total annual sum on a global scale to be in the region of $250 billion dollars. And yet, the funds currently set aside for this purpose only just exceeded one twentieth of this figure between 1991 and 2010, according to the Institute of Overseas Development in London - a far cry from all these sterile negotiations full of empty promises, on which the residents of Vanuatu and her neighbours must henceforth rely to fund the reconstruction of their infrastructure, homes and livelihoods.

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