First day of the four-week course on disaster management. From left Benedikt Halldórsson, Moritz Rissmann, Evan Forbes, Vasileios Pavlidis, Autumn Lotze, Matias Mandell, Sarah Welsh-Huggins, Lisa Henault, Annett Anders, Jumana Jaghoub, Hatim Alwahsh, Mohammad Fetiane, Sólveig Thorvaldsóttir, Katrín Kristjánsdóttir, Elínborg Gunnarsdóttir and Hrafnkell Guðnason (Photo: Solveig Thorvaldsdottir)
By Dizery Salim
GENEVA, 30 May 2012
- Earthquake and flood-prone Arborg, Iceland, a member of the 'Making Cities Resilient' campaign, is boosting the preparedness of its new twin - the Palestinian city of Jericho - starting with a four-week crash course on disaster management that begins today.
Situated 50 km east of the nation's capital, Reykjavik, Arborg sits close to Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano which caused unprecedented air traffic chaos that lasted weeks when it erupted in April 2010. A 6.3 magnitude earthquake in 2008 required $3 million in joint compensation from the central government, national civil emergency funds and infrastructure insurance to pay for the extensive damage caused.
Solveig Thorvaldsdottir, an earthquake engineer with a background in search-and-rescue, will teach the masters level course along with a number of guest lecturers, using the town's unique surroundings as her natural classroom.
"Arborg is a small town of only 8,000 people but our exposure to hazards makes it like a laboratory. It is in a high-risk zone, sitting in the middle of the south Iceland fault zone. It's quite close to volcanoes, including Eyjafjallajökull. It's by the Ölfus river and has been flooded in the past.
"Last year, we had the idea of using the framework of the 'Making Cities Resilient' campaign to connect students to the community. In these next four weeks, students will learn directly about disaster management planning from the municipal authorities themselves and partners in the campaign. These include a school, hospital, a local NGO, the city prison, a factory and the local agriculture association."
It is the second year that the course is offered to students outside of Iceland, Ms. Thorvaldsdottir said, and the first to be attended by students from the occupied Palestinian territory, including one participant from the city of Jericho.
She said Iceland's Ministry for Foreign Affairs is paying for three Palestinians from the West Bank to participate in the course which will centre on the Ten Essential actions developed by the campaign:
"We plan to hold a similar course in Jericho later, either this year or next," she added.
Ms. Thorvaldsdottir's relationship with the city of Jericho began when she took part in a capacity building project in the occupied Palestinian territory, under the auspices of the United Nations humanitarian affairs office, OCHA.
"The Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs seconded me there last year for three months to write recommendations on how to build capacity in the West Bank for dealing with disasters. One of my suggestions was that a city in the West Bank could twin with us since Arborg is part of the United Nations' world disaster reduction campaign 'Making Cities Resilient.' I recommended Jericho because, like Arborg, it sits on an earthquake zone and is vulnerable to floods from the Jordan River. We are still working on the formalities of the twinning, but we have already started working together, which is great."
Jericho is the lowest permanently inhabited site on the planet. It is also believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world with current population estimated at 20,000 Palestinians. Situated on the West Bank close to the Dead Sea Rift Valley, Jericho was hit by several devastating earthquakes in its history, including a 6.2 magnitude earthquake in July 1927.
Ms. Thorvaldsdottir was the Director of Iceland's civil defense authority for seven years, after working in California, United States, as a disaster loss modeler.
She said 11 students will present three papers at the end of the four-week course on how the community of Arborg can be better prepared.