Last month, Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Atlantic storm since Hurricane Felix in 2007, slammed into Haiti on 4 October with more than 300 km/h winds and torrential rains that left 1.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. In support of the Government, the United Nations disaster response mechanisms kicked in: United Nations Disaster Assessment On and Coordination (UNDAC) teams were deployed, rapid assessments undertaken, a Flash Appeal was released, seeking US$119.8 million in emergency funding to meet the most urgent humanitarian needs of 750,000 people for the next three months.

After every devastating disaster, the international community is left with the age-old question, “how can we be better prepared for such an event?” Until recently, the international humanitarian community primarily focused on emergency response. In a world with limited aid resources, the humanitarian imperative meant that funding was nearly always directed to disaster relief, not disaster response preparedness, even if we knew that investments in preparedness would save lives. However, over the last ten years, this thinking has started to change. Firstly, with the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015), and more recently with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030) which focuses on countries being better prepared to respond to disasters together with a “build back better” approach in recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. Governments also made firm commitments to accelerate the Sendai Framework, including substantial financial commitments to invest in disaster risk reduction.

On 13 October, UNISDR launched the new “Sendai Seven” Campaign to promote each of the seven targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The General Assembly has designated 13 October as the International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) to promote a global culture of disaster reduction, including disaster prevention, mitigation, and preparedness. Since it began 25 years ago, the day has grown into a major global awareness event celebrated in many ways to encourage efforts to build more disaster-resilient communities and nations. This year’s campaign slogan “Live to Tell” was focused on the Sendai Framework’s first target which is to reduce global disaster mortality substantially by 2030. In light of this year’s campaign, we need to be prepared to respond effectively to natural disasters like, Hurricane Matthew, in order to substantially reduce global disaster mortality. OCHA’s Emergency Services Branch both advocates investing in preparedness and works to strengthen the response capacity of the United Nations and its partners to be better prepared to respond to disasters. We promote the Emergency Response Preparedness (ERP) approach, which sets out a series of actions the United Nations and partners need to do, to anticipate hazards and prepare key components of a possible response. The aim is to increase the speed and volume of life-saving assistance delivered in the first four to six weeks of an emergency.

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Hurricane Matthew Jeremie Les Cayes. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH