In an increasingly disaster prone world, leaders from the UN, the World Bank, NGOs and countries recently hit by natural disasters agreed on a global road map for how best to rebuild after fires, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis at the end of a three day conference in Geneva in May.

The World Reconstruction Conference was billed as the first large scale global conference on disaster reconstruction.  “If recovery is done right,” said Zoubida Allaoua, the World Bank’s director of finance, “it opens real opportunities for sustainable development.” 

To counter concerns by some governments that such a framework might infringe on national sovereignty, she said the goal of the conference was to create a model for reconstruction that governments can work into their own agendas, and “show them how to put into place a legal framework that would make more effective use of donor funds in the post recovery stage.”

The conference drew on 45 years worth of disasters in 90 countries in a world where recent disasters in Japan have highlighted how “the speed of urbanization and the threats posed by climate change are making this exercise ever more important,” according to Allaoua.

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti was presented as a poignant example about of how, despite the best intentions of donors, uncoordinated efforts to rebuild after a natural disaster can be costly, chaotic and ineffective.  “If you do not have national capacity to lead either because they (leaders) have been eliminated or don’t have the skills,” said Alan March of Australia’s Agency for International Development, “you will have a very slow response even with international players taking a role.

The recent twin disasters in Japan were a wake up call for the conferees. “When even the most well-prepared country, like Japan, finds it so difficult to cope, imagine what poor countries with poor capacities are faced with”, said Allaoua.

Japan’s Ambassador in Geneva, Kenichi Suganuma, said Japan is ready to share its experience and “contribute actively to a future global framework for disaster prevention and that the role of governments from the local to the national level is critical.

At the end of the conference, the UN’s office for disaster reduction (UNISDR) announced that a €100,000 award will be offered every two years for new risk reduction projects that “will contribute to increasing people’s resilience to disasters especially in developing countries”.