It is the second storm with over 300 kph winds in just 16 months to devastate the East and South Pacific region following Typhoon Haiyan that struck the Philippines in November 2013.
Global economic losses from disasters now exceed US$300 billion annually, said UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon during the opening of the five-day conference in the city of Sendai.
Actions are urgently needed to lower that figure and the money that will be saved should be invested in development to uplift people still mired in poverty, Ban added.
A visibly moved Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale spoke at the gathering and made a passionate appeal to the international community to “give a helping hand”.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that 70 per cent of disasters are now totally linked to climate change, double the number two decades ago. Fabius wants to draw up a scheme where the most vulnerable countries will have an early warning system.
“Disasters undermine hard-earned development gains and perpetuate poverty,” noted Achim Steiner, UN undersecretary-general and executive director of the UN Environment Programme.
The conference aims to agree on a new framework for disaster risk reduction to update the Hyogo Framework for Action adopted in Kobe, Japan, ten years ago.
Organisers hope the conference will provide momentum towards COP 21, the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which takes place in December in Paris where negotiators will thresh out agreements on cutting greenhouse gases.
On the opening day, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged US$4 billion to support implementation of the Sendai Cooperation Initiative for Disaster Risk Reduction over the next four years. This will cover the development of disaster-proof infrastructure, the promotion of global cooperation and training of government officials and leaders on disaster risk reduction.
On Monday, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), World Bank and the UK Department for International Development launched their own initiative called Challenge Fund.
The fund aims to help developing countries make the best use of technology and available data through new and inventive approaches so developing countries can better gauge disaster risks and help spread innovation to cope.
Also during the conference, the global network HelpAge International launched what it calls the first index ranking countries based on the risks faced by older people.
According to the index, the highest risks are in Somalia followed by the Central African Republic then Afghanistan due to conflicts and lack of service provisions for older people. In the East Asia region, Myanmar is ranked the highest risk at seventh place.
HelpAge is campaigning for governments and NGOs to sign Charter 14, which is a 14-point pledge to include older people in disaster risk reduction efforts. The organisation said that only one per cent of funded projects targeted older people and that they are not engaged or consulted.
“Older people are often seen as passive recipients of aid rather than active participants in disaster risks reduction activities…and often get overlooked,” said Godfred Paul, senior regional programme manager for HelpAge International.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.