Tsunami Advocate Focuses On Safe Schools

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - New York UNHQ Liaison Office
Petra Nemcova receiving her award at the Japan Society in New York (Photo: UN)
Petra Nemcova receiving her award at the Japan Society in New York (Photo: UN)

NEW YORK, November 2, 2017 - Czech model and entrepreneur Petra Nemcova was yesterday officially recognized by Robert Glasser, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction as World Tsunami Awareness Advocate in a ceremony held at the Japan Society in New York.

“Petra Nemcova not only survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Thailand under terrible circumstances but also found a way to continue living, sharing her experience and putting her entrepreneurial spirit at the service of people affected by disasters. We are very pleased to recognize her efforts and acknowledge the incredible work she has undertaken to increase awareness on tsunami risk” said Robert Glasser.

On 26 December 2004, Petra Nemcova lost her fiancé Simon Atlee and suffered serious injuries when the Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck in Thailand. She managed to survive holding on to a palm tree for eight hours until she was rescued by Thai civilians and airlifted to an inland hospital nearby.

“I was blessed to survive a near death experience in 2004 and this experience has taught me a huge lesson. We cannot control nature, but we can control the actions we take,” she says.

A few months after the Indian Ocean tsunami, Petra went back to Thailand and created “Happy Hearts Fund.” Her charity fund has now financed 165 safe and disaster resilient schools in disaster-affected communities in Peru, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Haiti, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Nepal to the benefit of over 100,000 children.

“We make sure that our schools respect the national building codes and are able to withstand a major earthquake, tsunami, or hurricane reinforcing their structure with steel bars along vulnerable and critical joints which allow them to withstand stronger forces,” she confirms.

Petra Nemcova who describes herself today as a model, philanthropist and entrepreneur admits to spending more than two third of her time raising money and rebuilding schools in disaster-affected countries.
“Last week, we were in Nepal, and we have just reopened five schools which were completely damaged after the 2015 earthquake. We are also involved in the reconstruction of five schools in Saint Martin and the rest of the Caribbean after hurricane Harvey hit the region.”

“I thank UNISDR for designating me as tsunami advocate which I accept with a great honor, and I will continue working on raising awareness on tsunami risks but my action today goes beyond tsunami prevention as I do believe that we can only save more lives in the future if we have a multi-hazard approach.”

The event at the Japan Society was co-organized by the permanent mission of Japan to the United Nations in New York, as well as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

The recognition of Petra Nemcova was announced after the opening remarks of Ambassador Koro Bessho, Permanent Representative of Japan followed by the interventions of Mr. František Ružička, Chef de Cabinet to the President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly and Mr. Achim Steiner, Administrator of UNDP , who stressed the importance of integrating tsunami education in the curriculum of all children to better protect communities and to have more efficient early warning systems in place to save more lives in the future.

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