Turkey takes the helm of European disaster risk body

Turkey takes charge of the European Forum: Mr. Erkan Koparmal (left), strategic chief at its disaster management body AFAD, receives the gavel from Mr. Taito Vainio, senior adviser at the Interior Ministry of outgoing president Finland (Photo: UNISDR).
 
By Jonathan Fowler

HELSINKI, 5 October 2016 – Turkey took the helm of Europe’s top disaster risk reduction forum today, ahead of a new drive by the continent’s governments to widen efforts to curb the threats posed by natural and man-made hazards.

Turkey officially succeeded Finland at the close of the three-day 7th Annual Meeting of the European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction in Helsinki. Italy is next in line.

“I would like to extend my thanks to Finland for all the efforts. We are very happy to be president of the European Forum,” said Mr. Erkan Koparmal, strategic chief at Turkey’s disaster management body AFAD, as he received the gavel from Mr. Taito Vainio, senior adviser at Finland’s Interior Ministry.

Turkey is a recognized leader in the field, having undergone a shift in the wake of the 1999 Izmit Earthquake from disaster response to risk reduction, for example by retrofitting school buildings to make them safe havens. It is currently preparing its new, 15-year Turkey Disaster Risk Reduction Plan (TARAP).

“This will serve as our country’s master plan in the field of disaster risk management,” said Mr. Mehmet Halis Bilden, Acting President of AFAD, earlier in the meeting.

Disaster risk reduction requires long-term vision, Mr. Bilden underlined.

“A mindset that focuses on risk reduction can take generations to take root in a society, and we are working to instill such a mindset,” he explained.

The European Forum groups 30 countries across the continent, as well as the Council of Europe, the European Commission and sub-regional bodies such as the Council of Baltic Sea States.

It has catalysed efforts to build resilience. More than 30 European countries now have a legal framework on disaster risk reduction, compared to five in 2005. And there are over 650 European communities in UNISDR’s flagship Making Cities Resilient network, a twentyfold rise from 2010.

The European Forum is moving to a new level. In March, Turkey will host the first Open Forum, which enlarges the process beyond officially-mandated experts to non-governmental organisations and others working at the interface of disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change.

That tallies with the goals of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year agreement adopted by the international community in March 2015.

The Sendai Framework aims by 2030 to achieve substantial reductions in lives lost, numbers of people affected, and economic damage, notably by seeing all hazards as part of a big picture and involving not only the authorities but also communities, business and other players.

To spur the effort, it calls for a huge increase by 2020 in the number of countries with specific disaster risk reduction strategies, adding an edge to the European Forum’s work over coming years.

In a closing declaration, European Forum participants called for “stronger engagement by European leaders and decision makers in the process of moving forward the disaster risk reduction agenda and Sendai Framework implementation, given the powerful role of disaster risk reduction in fostering economic growth and supporting sustainable development.”

That call is particularly timely, not only because of the Open Forum but also because next May will see the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, hosted by Mexico. It is a key stepping stone in the Sendai Framework process.

The European Forum has been focusing on how to ensure a coherent approach to the raft of global agreements that are laying the foundations for the next 15 years of global development.

The Sendai Framework was followed by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. And 2016 has seen the World Humanitarian Summit declaration on reshaping relief aid in a crisis-riven world, and the New Urban Agenda on housing and sustainable urban development, due for approval at this month’s Habitat III conference.

At its 2015 meeting, the European Forum adopted a roadmap that focuses efforts on climate change, the environment, the private sector, health, and persons with disabilities, all at national and local levels. It is now working on concrete targets.

This year’s meeting came four months after the European Commission – the European Union’s executive body – adopted a plan to implement the Sendai Framework.

The European Forum’s success has been driven by peer reviews of members’ policies. Finland was a pilot country.

“The most important thing is that you get new ideas,” said Mr. Vainio.

Coming in the wake of floods in 2014, Bulgaria’s 2015 peer review spurred a shift to a risk reduction strategy, said Mr. Georgi Petrov, Inspector at its Chief Directorate of Fire Safety and Civil Protection.

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