On the speaker's platform yesterday for the closing session of the First Arab Regional Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. From left: Juerg Zumstein, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation; Ambassador Shahira Wahbi, League of Arab States; Dr. Muhanned Adnan Hararah, Aqaba's Commissioner for Environment and Health Control; UNISDR head of office for Arab States, Amjad Abbashar; and Jo Scheuer, Coordinator, DRR and Recovery Team, UNDP.
By Denis McClean
AQABA, 22 March 2013
- Mayors and local government representatives across the region now have ten days during which to comment on the Arab Declaration on Disaster Risk Reduction in Cities which was agreed yesterday at the First Arab Regional Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction organized by UNISDR and partners.
Conference participants representing some 40 cities and towns across the region set 13 concrete targets for the next five years including allocating at least 2% of annual budget to disaster risk reduction; establishing a dedicated unit for planning and organization; passing legislation and implementing specific disaster mitigation measures.
This week's conference was the first-ever opportunity for mayors and local government representatives from the Arab States to come together and debate the challenges faced by a region where over 55% of people live in large cities and small towns. In some Arab countries, the figure is as high as 80%.
There was much interest in Lebanon's success in enrolling 270 municipalities into UNISDR's Making Cities Resilient Campaign which was launched in 2010 and now numbers over 1,400 towns and cities worldwide.
UNISDR Chief Margareta Wahlström said: "Lebanon has really taken the campaign to a new level and shown how important it is to engage local governments if we are to make real progress in disaster risk reduction. Local governments are closest to the needs of the community and should be given the resources to deliver on the Ten Essentials of the Making Cities Resilient Campaign. It is an investment in the future."
Enthusiasm for the campaign was also fired by UNISDR's acceptance of UNDP's nomination of the Jordanian city Akaba as the first certified role model city for disaster risk reduction. The world heritage site, Petra, was also admitted to the campaign this week.
Representatives from Tunisia stated their intention yesterday to bring 16 cities into the Campaign including the capital Tunis. Rouihem Samir, the Governor of Jendouba, and Garouachi Mustapha, Deputy Governor of Tunis, agreed that the conference had convinced them to encourage cities and towns in their regions to join the Campaign.
Commenting on the conference recommendations, Mr. Mustapha said: "Generally we are very positive about the outcome. All the recommendations relate to our programmes. We need funding for some of these activities. My view is that the media has to get more involved in disaster risk reduction. We need their support."
Similarly, in neighbouring Algeria, the mayors of the earthquake-prone cities of Boumerdes and Chief, are not yet members of the Campaign but are keen to join now they have heard experiences from other cities in the region.
The Mayor of Boumerdes (pop. 42,000), Sidali Aitsilarbi, recalled how ten years ago, 230 people died in his town during an earthquake and said they have already met one of the key recommendations from the conference which was to allocate at least 2% of the municipal budget to disaster risk reduction.
"We have already allocated more than 2% for disaster risk reduction. And we have invested a lot in infrastructure to protect the town against earthquakes, floods and landslides. We don't yet have a dedicated disaster risk management unit but would like to implement this by 2015," said Mayor Aitsilarbi.
In Chief, memories are still strong of the devastating earthquake of October 1980 which resulted in a death toll of 2,647 in the municipality. The Mayor of Chief (pop. 191,000), Teguia Mohammed, said the city had the capacity to deliver on the 2% budget target for disaster risk reduction recommended by the conference but felt that it would be difficult for many other municipalities in Algeria.
The following is a summary of the targets agreed at the conference:
Set up a dedicated unit or organization for planning and management of disaster risk reduction strategies;
At least one law e.g. on land zoning, penalties for non-compliance to safety standards or responsibilities of stakeholders;
Allocate at least 2% of the city's annual budget to DRR;
Prepare at least one risk assessment report to guide urban development;
Prepare a strategy based on consultations with stakeholders;
Implement at least one public awareness campaign;
Put in place education/training programmes;
Build or restore at least two pieces of infrastructure to reduce risk;
Implement mitigation measures at government offices, schools and hospitals;
Set up a system to monitor enforcement of building codes;
Set up an early warning committee;
Set up community-based urban search and rescue teams;
Implement at least two schemes to protect natural resources.