Imran Madden, Head of Humanitarian Department for Islamic Relief, reports from a pivotal world conference on disaster risk reduction.

The World Conference on Disaster Reduction conference is taking place in Sendai, Japan, focusing on the new framework for disaster risk reduction: the second Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA2). The early days have been hectic and challenging.

Years have been spent on the draft document but there are now only two days left for member states to reach agreement. Will the document deliver on the commitments and responsibilities necessary to secure meaningful change for vulnerable communities? Will it go beyond the first framework, which was signed more than ten years ago? Or will it lack any real quantifiable targets to reduce the impact of disasters?

Disaster risk reduction is essential for all

Syed Shahnawaz Ali of Islamic Relief Philippines and Imran Madden at the Sendai conference.

Syed Shahnawaz Ali of Islamic Relief Philippines and Imran Madden at the Sendai conference.

As host, Japan has delivered a conference with much efficiency, as you might expect. But this is a country facing incredible challenges with its own natural hazards.

I attended a presentation from a local community leader who told us of the day the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami struck in 2011. On that fateful day, he rode around on his bike warning his neighbours of the deadly tsunami.

As an older man, he was physically exhausted by the time he reached the playground of the local primary school. He was just in time to witness children and their parents being washed away by the enormous sea wave.

Those who made it to the safety of the school were trapped for five days before being rescued by helicopter. If this is the reality of a world leader in disaster risk reduction, how much worse is the situation in the poorest countries?

A stark reminder

There is real fear that the document will avoid quantifiable targets that financially and morally commit states. There are tussles, arguments and compromises over language and commitments – but the whole world is here, literally, so any agreement represents an achievement.

If the negotiators needed a stark reminder, it came in the form of Typhoon Pam, which ripped through Vanuatu and left a trail of utter devastation. Speaking at the conference, the country’s president blamed climate change for the extreme weather.

Participating in the world conference, Islamic Relief is pushing for further efforts to protect poor communities from disasters and sharing learning from our extensive experience of delivering disaster resilience projects across the globe. Islamic Relief is also calling for bold action on climate change.

Every word matters when it comes to disaster risk reduction. This conference must deliver a framework that commits member states to ambitious targets that build a safer world for all.