Geneva (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) — The private sector, a key driver of innovation and investment, should be at the heart of disaster risk reduction efforts, said speakers at a meeting organized by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The fourth session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, which met from 19 to 23 May, helped lay the groundwork for the post-2015 development agenda, which highlights resilience to disaster and climate change.
Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, said that the meeting had lived up to its task of finding common ground for reducing disaster risk. The General Assembly had asked it to develop a post-2015 strategy reflecting the views of all stakeholders. That was evident in the diversity of the consultations, which had involved the broadest cross-section of disaster risk reduction stakeholders ever to meet in one place at one time.
The communiqué adopted at the high-level part of the meeting was the result of mounting popular momentum and political will for a resilient planet, she said. It laid out the imperatives and priorities for the international community from now to 2015 and beyond. The communiqué also reflected the intentions of the private sector to be more active in reducing disaster risks, as well as communities’ pleas to participate more in local decision-making.
Martin Dahinden, Director-General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, who chaired the Global Platform, said that not only were businesses exposed to natural hazards, they also contributed to increased disaster risk, while at the same time driving economic growth. The private sector was accordingly investing more in reducing risk and building resilience, opening new opportunities for public-private partnerships. Reinforcing calls for greater community ownership of disaster risk reduction efforts, he said that “disasters happen locally and solutions are to be found locally”.
Terezya Huvisa, Minister of State for the Environment, United Republic of Tanzania, summarized the morning’s plenary discussion on the sustainable engagement of Governments to disaster risk reduction. Speakers had emphasized that disaster risk reduction was closely linked to adaptation to climate change and sustainable development, she said.
Aris Papadopoulos, Chairman of Titan America, who also chaired the meeting’s Private Sector Advisory Group, recommended the adoption of a stronger, more inclusive framework for action and of national legislation better adapted to disaster risk. Given the level of private-sector investment in disaster risk reduction, Governments should create partnerships with the private sector, he said.
Violet Shivutse, Shibuye Community Health Workers, Kenya, said the post-2015 framework should focus on the construction of resilient buildings. The ability of local communities to cope with disasters should be enhanced, particularly by sharing information and experiences.
Thomas Loster, President of the Munich Re Foundation, presented his foundation’s Risk Award, which recognized a project aimed at making cities more resilient to floods through simple and accessible technical means.
The following States and observers commented on the draft Chair’s summary of the Platform: Norway, Benin, United Kingdom, Libya, Colombia, Mexico, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chile, Cuba, India, Indonesia, State of Palestine, Fiji, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Algeria, Mauritania and Canada.
The following intergovernmental organizations and United Nations agencies also contributed: The League of Arab States, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), World Bank, World Health Organization (WHO), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), International Union for the Conservation of Nature, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, Global Network for Disaster Reduction, East African Community and the Norwegian Refugee Council.
JIAN LI, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Civil Affairs, China, said that her Government had adhered to the principle of comprehensive disaster risk reduction. Resources were leveraged from all sides to reduce the loss of life and property. China was moving from disaster response to disaster risk reduction, which was gradually being incorporated into national economic and social development plans. The strategy called for appointing at least one disaster risk reduction focal point in each community; for increasing the use of scientific tools in disaster risk reduction; and for integrating disaster risk reduction into national development strategies.
A.K. MANGOTRA, Secretary, Ministry of Home Ministry, India, said there had not previously been much awareness in India about disasters and climate change, but over the past two decades the discourse had been mainstreamed into the country’s main forums. It was important to get politicians on board and to “drill down” to the lowest levels, in villages. Barriers between various government departments should also come down, which was where UNISDR had a role to play. As India lacked funding, the World Bank and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had been asked to help with studies and products to obtain disaster risk financing.
TEREZYA HUVISA, Minister of State for the Environment, United Republic of Tanzania, said that lack of awareness, education and technology were among the biggest challenges facing the United Republic of Tanzania, one of the least developed countries. Involving local communities in disaster risk reduction was also a challenge, but the Government was trying its best to create awareness, and had established policies and agencies to sensitize people. Tanzanians had been relying on indigenous knowledge for years and years in preparing for disasters. The Government had recognized the value of this knowledge, which should be used alongside scientific knowledge.
SERGIO SIMOES, Head of Civil Protection, Brazil, said his country had a unique national policy for civil defence, but obstacles of an economic, social and cultural nature had emerged. Communities had to be prepared to “self-protect”. Important work would be done in Brazil to bring together the different fields of knowledge involved in disaster risk reduction, including science and technology.
BILAL HAMAD, Mayor of Beirut, Lebanon, said that Beirut, as part of an earthquake-prone country, had been destroyed several times, but those memories were short-lived when compared to more recent events in the country and region. Awareness-raising was conducted at the national and municipal level. It highlighted efforts to protect Lebanon’s heritage and gave prominence to public-private partnerships. Local governments and municipalities, which were more stable than the central Government because they served longer terms in office, should be engaged.
FUAT OKTAY, Director-General, Disaster and Emergency Management Agency, Turkey, said that Turkey had made great progress on disaster management over the past decade, but many problems remained. One of the main issues was the lack of ownership. Who was responsible for responding to disaster: the central Government, or one or more agencies? Other issues included the lack of a holistic approach, and ineffective coordination of disaster risk reduction in response and recovery. A very strong technical infrastructure was needed, and all channels of communication must be open before, during and after a disaster. The lack of sound and pragmatic projects, financing, awareness, and empowerment of local authorities were also major challenges. It was critical as well to have a sustainable disaster risk reduction strategy in place; to raise awareness in schools and among families; and to ensure business continuity.
RICARDO TORO, Head, National Office of Emergency of the Interior Ministry, Chile, said that Chile was one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, and there was considerable political commitment to addressing these issues globally. The Government had given great thought to the lessons learned and how to act on them. A civil protection law was in force, and there were national and regional plans for disaster response. Local authorities must also, however, be included in disaster risk reduction planning. Often it was not known what was going on at the local level, which made communication and coordination all the more crucial.
Mr. TORO said that the lack of communication between Government and local communities was a challenge; the main goal was to promote awareness and launch effective emergency response campaigns. The ease of communicating with local authorities varied, but having a solid emergency response plan in place would facilitate coordination at both the local and national level. Risk-related legislation should also be preceded by a tailor-made awareness-building plan.
Mr. OKTAY said that by now all stakeholders understood the difference between disaster management and disaster reduction. The first phase of Turkey’s current plan, which focused on capacity-building, had just concluded. Ensuring coordination among all actors, and non-governmental organizations in particular, was the priority of the second phase. An urban development project was under way with significant private-sector investment to demolish 67 million houses and reconstruct them as disaster-resilient. Other projects had been initiated to prevent landslides and erosion and to assess local areas at risk.
Mr. SIMOES said that a local mayor had helped raise awareness among the 60 million inhabitants of 92 municipalities in one Brazilian State, which was located in a vulnerable area. It was important for all mayors to accept their responsibility for risk reduction as part of the 2005-2015 Hyogo Framework for Action.
Ms. HUVISA said that the rapid expansion of cities was attracting many foreign investors to the United Republic of Tanzania, particularly in the construction industry. One Government priority was to protect traditional knowledge and local communities, which were often disregarded by construction projects. Such projects forced them to leave their lands, which ultimately increased the risk of disasters. Women heads of households, vulnerable groups and people with disabilities should be more empowered.
Mr. TORO said that Chile had been trying to address the loss of scientific and monitoring capacity, which was due in part to inadequate research funding.
A speaker from the East African Legislative Assembly said that the transboundary dimension should be reflected in the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction.
Mr. HAMAD said the United Nations should help the Palestinian and Syrian peoples to prioritize such issues as disaster risk reduction.
Mr. OKTAY said that the Hyogo Framework for Action should also be implemented in the least developed countries, which had fewer opportunities to create a resilient society.
Ms. HUVISA said that the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction (HFA2) should address the challenges of climate change, which were compounding the problem of natural hazards. There were huge gaps between disaster risk reduction planning and implementation, and between local needs, national plans and critical mass. Sustainable disaster risk reduction should be better linked to climate change adaptation, since the same goals were involved. Too many grass-roots organizations were working on sustainable development issues in health and disaster reduction, but without collaborating. Disaster risk reduction was also hampered in some countries by political instability.
Mr. PAPADOPOULOS said the recent tornado in Oklahoma had shown that no nation was immune to disasters. Partnership was the only way forward, as the problem varied from one country to another and solutions should be locally owned. The private sector, which was committed to enhancing its involvement in disaster risk reduction, recommended that the public sector should enforce codes and join forces with civil society.
Ms. SHIVUTSE said that great results had been achieved through grass-roots action. Communities were increasingly involved in disaster risk reduction and were well organized, especially in informal settlements and regional networks, but they also had to cope with smaller-scale, silent disasters. Community participation and leadership should be formalized; resilience-building should become a focus of the HFA2; and dialogue should be facilitated between Governments and local groups, taking account of indigenous knowledge and traditional practices.
The representative of Sudan said the HFA2 should take account of the sanctions that had weighed heavily on poor countries. The transfer of technology could help reduce the risk of disasters, including desertification. Better coordination was needed to address natural hazards within the United Nations system.
At the closing ceremony, YOSHITAMI KAMEOKA, Parliamentary Secretary for Disaster Management, Cabinet Office of Japan, announced it would host the World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai in 2015.
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