New steps for disaster risk awareness

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United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Sub-Regional Office for Central Asia
Raising awareness: Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, speaks to the media at the 3rd International Conference on Public Awareness as a Cornerstone of Disaster Risk Reduction and Sustainable Development (Photo: UNISDR)
Raising awareness: Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, speaks to the media at the 3rd International Conference on Public Awareness as a Cornerstone of Disaster Risk Reduction and Sustainable Development (Photo: UNISDR)

YEREVAN, 18 December 2015 – An international conference has agreed to step up efforts to increase public awareness of how to curb the impact of natural and man-made hazards, spurring the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Participants in the 3rd International Conference on Public Awareness as a Cornerstone of Disaster Risk Reduction and Sustainable Development, hosted by Armenia, called for a raft of activities over the next 18 months.

Among them is the identification and pooling of details of awareness-raising at the global, national and local levels, to smooth the sharing and application of best practices and prevent policymakers and communities from having to start from scratch each time.

“We want to harness the capacities of what’s already being done,” said Mr. Nikolay Grigoryan, Deputy Head of the Rescue Service at Armenia’s Ministry of Territorial Administration and Emergency Situations.

“Our objective is to make everything understandable and usable for everybody, while also designing information for different audiences,” he told the two-day meeting, which drew dozens of journalists, media policy experts and disaster risk reduction specialists from around the world.

The 2017 timeline is tied to the fact that that year will see the next edition of the Global Platform, a high-profile biennial gathering that helps to set the tone for disaster risk reduction.

The Sendai Framework, adopted in March, is a 15-year international agreement that aims to reduce substantially the number of people killed and affected by disasters, as well as to rein in economic losses, and ensure that all countries put in place national and local risk reduction strategies.

“Sendai speaks to everyone. Sendai is everyone’s business,” Ms. Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, told the conference.

Another key goal is to bring the media – identified by the Sendai Framework as a key partner -- squarely into the disaster risk reduction process.

Selling disaster risk reduction can be hard for practitioners, in a world where headlines are dominated by stories of death and destruction rather than the fact that it has been avoided.

“The disaster risk reduction story is not an obvious news story,” said Kenyan newsman Mr. David Owino, who runs the Disaster Risk Reduction Network of African Journalists (DIRAJ).

He and other conference participants said that the task is to show how reducing risk can make a massive difference to ordinary people’s lives and livelihoods. That can mean going back to basics such as knowing what issues hit home.

“We need to do our research and know our audiences,” said Ms. Lisa Robinson, Senior Adviser, Resilience and Humanitarian Response, at BBC Media Action. “We need to listen to people sometimes more than we’re speaking to them.”

Since 2010, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) has trained more than 150 reporters and dozens of media-related government officials in disaster risk reduction issues, and the process is ongoing.

In addition, the globe’s broadcasting unions have made a formal commitment to help implement the Sendai Framework, building on their successful existing work, notably in Asia and the Pacific.

Risk reduction information and early warning is already a core part of the work of broadcasters in highly hazard-prone countries such as Japan and Australia.

Ms. Natalia Ilieva, Executive Assistant to Secretary-General of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, said that making the links clear between disaster risk reduction, climate change and sustainable development is a recipe for successfully raising awareness.

Another aim of the Yerevan conference was to feed into UNISDR’s “Words into Action” process, launched in August, which gathers experts from around the globe to shape by the end of 2016 a series of thematic guides on how to apply the life- and asset-saving Sendai Framework. They will be an important tool to capture practice, learning and progress over the next decade and a half.

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