Dr. Jan Danhelka (left), Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, and Prof. Pavel Danihelka, Technical University of Ostrava, at their presentation to the UNISDR Support Group (Photo: UNISDR)
By Denis McClean
GENEVA, 27 February 2017 - The Czech Republic has fully embraced the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction following a decade or more during which public awareness of disaster risk has grown considerably.
Dr. Jan Danhelka, deputy director of the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, points to the 2002 European floods as a significant turning point not only because of the extensive disaster losses but also the way in which the public imagination was captured by the plight of Gaston, a brown-fur seal and long-time resident of Prague zoo who escaped in the rising flood waters.
“This became a remarkable news story as people followed the media coverage of his movements from Prague to Dresden on the rivers Vltava and Elbe. He was recaptured north of Dresden but sadly he died later of exhaustion. There is now a statue of him in the zoo and it’s a real monument to the public awareness that has flourished since the floods.”
This was a theme taken up by Prof. Pavel Danihelka, in their joint presentation to the UNISDR Support Group this month, in which he highlighted the importance of including DRR in school curricula.
“The best target group are children and schools. We have a special schools programme. The children can teach the parents and the children bring the information back. We have studied how much of the information that is being provided is actually reaching the public. Leaflets are not very efficient. People either do not read them or do not understand them so we have to find alternatives.
“For us a very important communications channel are the fire brigades both the professional firemen and the 350,000 volunteer firemen. They have great influence in their local communities and have done a lot to raise public awareness of disaster risk.”
The land-locked Czech Republic has a population of 10.5 million and faces a broad range of hazards including floods, drought, wind strorms, landslides, snow and ice and forest fires. Serious flooding is a recurring problem and local solutions have been developed including local warning systems, flash flood guidance, and guidance for better safety control of small reservoirs. Floods often trigger landslides and technological accidents.
Prof. Danihelka who heads the Risk Research Laboratory at the Technical University of Ostrava, also drew attention to the large number of technological disasters faced by the Czech Republic noting that the Sendai Framework adopted two years ago extends the scope of disaster risk management to focus on both natural and man-made hazards and related environmental, technological and biological hazards.
He recalled how in the 2002 floods 86 tons of chlorine was released into the atmosphere and into the river system due to tank flooding and drew attention to a number of other industrial accidents.
Prof. Danihelka said that the Czech Republic is actively pursuing a change in approach from disaster management to disaster risk management with the Sendai Framework as a guide. The goal is to achieve security and sustainability for the environment, society and the national economy.