Governments identify challenges ahead

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
Chinese Deputy Minister of Civil Affairs, Jian Li, speaks at the morning plenary of the final day of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Chinese Deputy Minister of Civil Affairs, Jian Li, speaks at the morning plenary of the final day of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

GENEVA, 23 May 2013 - Senior Government officials from around the world today reaffirmed their commitment to disaster risk reduction to save lives and reverse the trend of mounting economic losses caused by impacts from natural disasters and climate change.

Speaking on the third and final day of 4th Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, Government representatives from Brazil, Chile, China, India, Lebanon, Tanzania and Turkey debated how best to secure sustainable risk management while pledging, within their means, to "invest more today for a safer tomorrow" -- the central theme of the Global Platform session.

While acknowledging that "one size does not necessarily fit all countries" in terms of effective risk reduction measures, all participants agreed on the importance of establishing public-private partnerships and prioritizing awareness-raising and action at the local community level.

Chinese Deputy Minister of Civil Affairs, Jian Li, said China was shifting emphasis from disaster response to a multi-hazard risk reduction approach, which was being mainstreamed into national economic and social developments plans.

Deputy Minister Li said that 80% of Chinese provinces had set up disaster risk committees and that the necessary scientific tools were being developed to mitigate disaster impacts, while 2.5 volunteers could be mobilized for disaster risk reduction, response and recovery operations nationwide. Furthermore, plans were afoot to ensure that every community in the country had a disaster risk focal point.

"It is also important that all of us work with and learn from each other," she added.

The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs Secretary, Mr. A.K. Mangotra, said that even though awareness of disaster risks and climate change impacts had grown in official circles over the past two decades, "it has not seeped down to village level."

He added: "First we need to break down the barriers between the various Government departments" to adopt a common and cohesive central approach to this problem before reaching out to local communities. "This is where UNISDR could come in and play a role," he said. Mr. Mangotra also cited lack of funding as an obstacle to initiating risk reduction studies and projects in India.

Picking up on a theme evoked by many developing country representatives, the Minister of State for the Environment in Tanzania, Dr. Terezya Huvisa, said that indigenous knowledge of nature was the main means of forecasting hazards. The main challenge was the lack of expertise technology. But it would be a mistake not to take traditional know-how into account in risk reduction planning, she said.

Dr. Huvisa also stated that gender issues should be included in risk reduction planning "because when disaster strikes it is women who bear the main burden of taking care of children and the elderly".

The Mayor of Beirut, Mr. Bilal Hamad, recalled that his city had been destroyed by earthquakes several times in past centuries but that the memory of them had been erased by the violence his country had suffered in more recent years.

He emphasized that nothing could be done without private-public engagement, although he stressed that the main work on risk reduction had to occur at the municipal level "because of the political instability and frequent change of government".

The head of the Chilean Interior Ministry's National Emergency Office, Mr. Ricardo Toro, said that despite the fact that Chile was one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world it was fully committed to supporting global risk reduction initiatives. He said it was crucial that local Government voices are part of risk reduction and response planning. "Often it is not known what is going on at local level, which is why communications and coordination are so important," he said.

The Director-General of Turkey's national emergency services (AFAD), Mr Fuat Oktay, said that his country had "come a long way in managing disasters" in recent years, but acknowledged that lack of awareness and concrete projects were among the main challenges that needed to be addressed. Another problem was to clearly identify ownership of risk reduction policy, planning and implementation.

Mr. Sergio Simoes, Head of Civil Protection in Brazil, said that a main challenge was to integrate scientific and technological advances into national disaster risk, response and recovery planning.

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