Scientists needed for risk reduction

The European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction (EFDRR) is intended to serve as the forum for exchanging information and knowledge, coordinating efforts throughout the Europe region and for providing advocacy for effective action to reduce disasters.
 
By Richard Waddington

MADRID, 7 October 2014 - Scientists can, and should, play a greater role in the international effort to reduce the prevalence and impact of disasters, Margareta Wahlström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of UNISDR told a conference.

But this will only happen when there is greater demand for scientists to be involved, she said at the 5th European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction.

“It is demand-driven, and that demand has to come from you,” she told over 60 delegates attending this three day conference hosted in Madrid by the Spanish General Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergencies.

The role of science was among issues raised on the opening day of the conference. Others included the use of National Platforms to coordinate policy and the need for greater interaction with other global negotiations, notably on climate change.

The conference is the latest in a series of regional meetings aimed at forging consensus on a new international framework for disaster reduction and revising the existing global blueprint, the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA). The Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Reduction will be held in Sendai, Japan, next March,

EFDRR’s recommendations will be shared with the co-Chairs of the Inter-Governmental Preparatory Committee working on a revised draft document for review at a Second to present to November’s second preparatory co for Sendai.

The clock is ticking ahead of an October 15 deadline for new wording. Ms Wahlström said the new draft must spell out priorities for action. It must also explain how those actions will be implemented. She urged delegates to come forward with concrete proposals.

Potentially there are strong synergies with two other global frameworks – on climate change and sustainable development – both of which will see fresh negotiations in 2015.

“Unfortunately we are not working together enough, the risk reduction community and the climate change community,” said Paul Watkinson, Head of the Climate Negotiation Team at the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy in Paris, where the climate talks will be held.

“Ahead of Sendai and in the run-up to Paris, we have the opportunity to work more closely. After all, everything we are doing is in the context of sustainable development for all,” he said.

Climate change overlaps with disaster reduction in a number of areas, including resilience and coping with the impact of disasters, capacity building and monitoring, he said.

The scientific community offers a means of achieving greater integration in the global agendas, said Virginia Murray, a UK public health consultant and vice-chair of the UNISDR Science and Technology Advisory Group. Science can help monitor and review evidence and provide needed advice. Its role was not highlighted in the HFA and now was the time to remedy that, she added.

Professor Murray urged the creation of an international science advisory mechanism for disaster risk reduction, which could provide the necessary theoretical knowledge and explanation. Most UN members support this, she added. “We need to create a basket to gather scientific knowledge on DRR,” she said.

But she acknowledged the scientists can be their own worst enemies, because they have often proved incapable of communicating effectively with the non-scientific community.

The role of special national bodies, known as national platforms, in coordinating DRR policy and actions was also debated, with most delegates favouring their use. But the wording in the current draft is weak and vague, Mette Lindahl-Olsson, head of Natural Hazards and Critical Infrastructure at the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, told the meeting.

A national platform, gathering a wide range of expertise, could help improve public awareness and concern about climate change and DRR. National platforms can help coordinate research, allocate resources and identify common needs, she said. “They can play the same role on a national level as UNISDR plays globally,” she added.

While agreeing on the significance of national platforms, some delegates warned that they should not blur lines when it came to accountability.

The European Commission, which co-chaired the session, stresses the importance of risk management to promote resilience, and the need to improve accountability, transparency and governance.

It also wants to see the framework deliver concrete results in terms of targets and indicators; strengthen sustainable development and the smart economy, and ensure coherence with other parts of the international agenda, said Thomas de Lannoy, European Commission DG Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection.

The meeting also shared best practices and raised a series of additional questions, including risk-sensitive investment, the needs of vulnerable communities, including disabled people and children, accountability, financing and how to measure success in achieving goals, and the need to involve local communities and the private sector.
The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction took place in 2015 The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction took place in 2015.
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