The world cannot remain indifferent toward disaster risks in low-income countries, panelists at an event hosted by the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and the Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Center for Islamic Countries (SESRIC) warned on Tuesday. The panel discussion, entitled "Developing Capacities for Effective Disaster Risk Management in Low-Income OIC Member Countries," brought host organizations, representatives from Sudan, Afghanistan, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank in addition to Dr. Fuat Oktay, who leads Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), to Tohoku University as part of the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR).
"There are increasingly coordinated efforts to reduce disaster risks through bilateral, regional and international cooperation and partnerships but a staggering world economy, widespread concerns over food and energy insecurity and global climate change seriously challenge progress towards sustaining prosperity in many developing country," the organizers remarked.
SESRIC Director-General Prof. Savaş Alpay, who recently authored a report on disaster and conflict management in OIC countries, delivered the opening speech at the event. "When people think of OIC countries, they think about oil and gas. According to our research, however, the most important asset of these countries relates to their demographic structure. We have a very young population, which means that we will need to invest more heavily into education," he commented.
Adam Bouloukos, who serves as the director of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, pointed out that it was important to hold a panel discussion on disaster risk reduction in low-income countries in Japan, a country with vast experience in this area. "An issue in the OIC countries is to engage young people and others to a very complex dialogue about disaster risk reduction but there is also quite a lot of expertise available in this part of the world," the UNISDR representative stated.
Reflecting on AFAD's humanitarian operations in nearly 50 countries, most of whom currently deal with financial challenges, Dr. Oktay argued that a range of risk factors, including legislative and institutional problems, a lack of infrastructure and low maintenance capacity, have a negative effect on efforts to build disaster resilience in low-income countries.
"Representing Turkey in many places, we discovered that people do not see us as aid providers but as one of them. When AFAD relief workers visited an Ebola treatment center, the first thing that medical professionals on the ground told them was that the Turkish delegation, unlike others, did not just deliver the goods and leave but instead walked the extra mile to stand side by side with the volunteers risking their lives on a daily basis. We had the same experience in Somalia, Iraq and Syria, among other places," he said. "This is exactly why Turkey worked with many low-income countries very effectively."
Since its establishment in 2009, AFAD has coordinated Turkey's response to natural, man-made and technological disasters at home and abroad including a huge influx of Middle East refugees whose number has reached 1.7 million according to official data. The agency manages a network of 25 state-of-the-art refugee camps in the country, where over 260.000 people enjoy access to housing facilities, healthcare, education and psychological support.