Participants in the Tunisia workshop show their support for the upcoming World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. (Photo: UNISDR)
By Lars Bernd
AIN DRAHAM, TUNISIA, 30 January 2015
– Municipalities from across Tunisia have stepped up their commitment to make themselves resilient in the face of disaster risk, spurred by Ain Draham, which two years ago was the first community in the North African country to join UNISDR’s Making Cities Resilient campaign.
Mindful that disaster risk reduction is a key stepping stone towards improving quality of life and ensuring sustainable development, representatives of 15 municipalities came together last week for a national workshop entitled “Build more resilient Tunisian municipalities in the light of disaster risk”. Drawing 80 participants, the 19-21 January meeting was organized by the municipality of Ain Draham together with Tunisia’s Secretariat of State for Sustainable Development and the Ministry of the Interior, with contributions from UNISDR and the United Nations Development Programme.
Ain Draham was chosen as the venue for the UNISDR-funded workshop due to the municipality's commitment to disaster risk reduction. Located in a mountainous area of northwest Tunisia, near the border with Algeria, it is exposed to landslides, forest fires and cold waves. The municipality lies in a region characterized by rainfall rates exceeding 1,500 millimetres -- the highest in the country -- with regular snowfall in large quantities. These conditions directly affect the lives of the local community, with their reduced resilience resulting from economic challenges, including poor infrastructure.
In February 2012 Ain Draham was totally isolated for three days due to snowfall and landslides that caused seven deaths, directly affected 98 people and caused considerable damage -- the collapse of a bridge linking Ain Draham and Hammam Bourguiba and five landslides cut the main roads leading to the town. The estimated cost was 35 million dinars (US $ 18 million), according to the national database on disaster losses (DesInventar) developed with the support of UNISDR and UNDP.
In 2013 the municipality of Ain Draham became the first city in Tunisia to join the Making Cities Resilient campaign, a bedrock of international disaster risk reduction that now links more than 2,400 communities across the globe. It was followed by 12 other municipalities, which also took part in last week’s workshop to train and apply tools developed by the campaign.
In their opening statements, the Tunisian State Secretary of Sustainable Development of the Ministry of Equipment, Planning and Sustainable Development Mr. Mounir Majdoub and the Secretary of State for Regional Development of the Ministry of Interior Mr. Abderrazak Ben Khalifa stressed the importance and necessity of policy planning in order to put in place the tools and measures needed to manage risks and disasters. Improving conditions and quality of life of communities within the sustainable development framework is among the basic motivations for reducing disaster risk, the two official said. Those words were echoed by remarks from the other participants.
The objective of this workshop was to strengthen the capacity of local and regional authorities in the prevention and management of disaster risks. The overarching aim was to promote a better understanding of urban risks in Tunisia and strengthen the capacity of local authorities to engage effectively in reducing current risks and avoiding new ones.
Several presentations and interventions during the workshop, helmed by UNISDR and UNDP experts, spotlighted way to help equip communities with the knowledge and tools to make key measures recommended to strengthen city resilience despite the lack of funding and material resources.
During the workshop, representatives of various municipalities prepared disaster risk self-assessment reports, a tool that enables status reporting and monitoring of further actions to reduce risk.
Ain Draham tries with its available resources to mainstream disaster risk in planning and investment programming in a host of sectors, involving youth civil protection volunteers and the private sector, to minimize the vulnerability of urban dwellers and ensure a better life without risks. Thanks to its commitment, the municipality is now supported by the UNDP / UNISDR Arab Cities Disaster Resilience Project, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. It recently developed its action plan for disaster risk reduction, with the goal of implementing immediately the objectives set down at the 1st Arab Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, in 2013.
The commitment of Tunisia in the Making Cities Resilient campaign is a crucial step to help engage other municipalities in the Maghreb on the path to urban resilience.
Beyond this engagement, Tunisia has largely expanded its focus towards disaster risk reduction since 2011. With support of the UNISDR and UNDP, several activities have been conducted in recent years, notably the preparation of two national Hyogo Framework for Action progress reports and the annual celebration of the International Day for Disaster Reduction to raise awareness on the issue of risk. In addition, Tunisia established its DesInventar database on disaster loss and damage in 2012-2013, took part in the World Initiative on Safer Schools launched in Istanbul in 2014, and has held two workshops in preparation for the establishment of a National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.