Opening speech by Robert Glasser to the European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction, Istanbul, 27 March 2017

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Europe & Central Asia

Your Excellency, Mr. Veysi Kaynak, Deputy Prime Minister;

Mr. Mehmet Halis Bilden, AFAD President, and your team;

Mr. Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management; 

Ms. Claudia Luciani, Director, Democratic Governance Directorate, Council of Europe;

Representatives of Member States, Intergovernmental Organizations and Stakeholder Groups;

Distinguished Delegates;

It is a pleasure to be here at this meeting of the European Forum on Disaster Risk Reduction which has extended its reach beyond representatives of government to include many other representatives from civil society including parliamentarians, the private sector and NGOs.

We are all united in our common desire to prevent disasters where we can and to reduce disaster losses where we cannot.

I would like to thank our hosts, the Turkish government, for their generous hosting of this event and for the example they have shown in developing a strong culture of disaster risk reduction through the creation six years ago of AFAD, the national disaster management authority.

The creation of AFAD was clear recognition that policies for effective disaster prevention need strong institutions to ensure their implementation.

AFAD has provided great momentum to efforts that were already underway to address Turkey’s vulnerability to earthquakes in particular.

The Marmara earthquake in 1999 in which 18,000 people died was a turning point in Turkey’s approach to disaster risk reduction and since then the country has relentlessly pursued the goal of making all schools and hospitals earthquake-resistant.

Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk is one of the four priorities outlined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction which was adopted in March two years ago at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

Spreading a greater understanding of disaster risk is also an important priority of the Sendai Framework and it is worth recalling the words of the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Numan Kurtulmus, at that World Conference.

Speaking on safe schools, he said: “Children determine the kind of country and the world in which we will live in the future.” And he made the point that disaster risk education was crucial because children act as a conduit for information into wider society, meaning that safer schools make for safer homes.

Indeed, just a month ago at a meeting of the UNISDR Support Group in Geneva I heard a representative from the Czech Republic stating much the same thing, that when it comes to raising awareness of disaster risk the best target group are children who can also teach their parents.

The inclusion of disaster risk reduction in school curricula across Europe is a great achievement and one that we should seek to encourage in other parts of the world.

Education on disaster risk reduction in Europe is not confined to primary and secondary schools.  There is also strong support for greater involvement of academia and the worlds of science and technology in the implementation of the Sendai Framework.

Yesterday, during the preparatory session of the Open Forum, there was an informal session on Science and Technology to support disaster risk reduction in Europe which continues the work on identifying how, and when, such inputs are required in disaster risk management.

In a highly urbanised region like Europe, the involvement of science and technology in disaster risk management is clearly necessary given the widespread threat posed by heatwaves, floods, storms and earthquakes.

It is notable that heatwaves have been responsible for a high proportion of disaster mortality in Europe in recent years but great progress has been made in reducing the death toll because of a better understanding of the nature of this risk and vulnerable groups.

One outstanding example of how Europe deploys science and technology in the service of reducing disaster risk is the Meteoalarm system, a portal which gets three billion hits per year and was established after 140 people died in Cyclone Lothar in 1999.

It is operated by the Austrian weather service, ZAMG, with the support of the European Union, on behalf of 34 national weather institutes and provides the public with impact-based weather warnings and alerts.

Weather and climate have no borders and Meteoalarm is a great example of how a region can come together to address a common challenge. It also highlights an issue of critical importance as we prepare for the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, hosted by Mexico,  in a few short weeks from now.

Europe’s success in developing strong national meteorological services which collaborate closely with each other has contributed a lot to reducing disaster mortality from floods and storms. The region has become particularly sophisticated in developing impact-based weather forecasting and ensuring communication of weather warnings to the general public.

The European model has a lot to offer the rest of the world when it comes to improving multi-hazard early warning systems, a key global challenge which will be addressed at the Global Platform.

It is also a foundation on which we can build to ensure better integration of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. All too often in the past there has been an integration gap between these two communities of practitioners.

There is a need to break down the silos that exist around action on disaster risk and climate risk and it is encouraging  to see that the European Commission is taking a lead on this.

This need for greater coherence across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is  at the heart of the EU’s own action plan for implementation of the Sendai Framework under the strategic direction of EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Mr. Christos Stylianides.

The EU action plan lays particular emphasis on the links between disaster risk management, climate change adaptation, biodiversity and urban policies, and support to the development of inclusive local and national strategies with active engagement of local authorities, communities and civil society.

The Council of Europe’s four year work plan for the EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement, is also aligned with the Sendai Framework and I would like to thank the Council for its support in organizing the Ministerial meeting in Portugal last year which endorsed this European Forum’s own Road Map for implementation of the Sendai Framework.

These initiatives support the view that plans for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction need to complement each other, and so make the best use of available resources at national and local level for disaster risk management.

And this leads me to a key issue which will be addressed at the Global Platform in May.

The great enabler for reducing disaster losses under the Sendai Framework is  target (e) which seeks a substantial increase in the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020.

Europe has solid foundations to build on, notably the fact that over 600 of your cities and towns are now members of the Making Cities Resilient Campaign so there is a growing understanding at local government level of the importance of building resilience to disasters.

This region also recognizes the opportunity there is now to ensure that plans for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation merge to avoid duplication of effort and to maximize the use of resources to reduce loss of life, numbers of people affected, economic losses and damage to critical infrastructure.

These are all key targets of the Sendai Framework and we now have indicators in place to measure progress on implementation. These are the first such indicators to be agreed by governments and the UN General Assembly and will also serve to measure progress on achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

National and local strategies for reducing disaster risk, including climate risk,  will be the bedrock for reducing disaster losses by 2030.

Personally I recognise that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the greatest long-term contribution that governments, local governments and the private sector can make to disaster risk reduction.

Local planning for improved disaster risk management helps create social demand for action at national and global level. It also helps drive greater ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions above and beyond the pledges already made which are insufficient by themselves to achieve the goal of keeping global temperatures at less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Climate change is not the only driver of disaster risk  but it combines in often poorly understood ways with other key risk factors such as rapid and unplanned urbanisation, poverty and environmental degradation to multiply the impact of a disaster.

This I believe is a key argument for bridging the integration gap between action on disaster risk and climate risk and I think Europe is well positioned to take a lead on this.

I would like thank once again our hosts the Government of Turkey for the warmth of the reception extended to all of us and I wish you all a very successful meeting.


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