(From left to right: Robert Watkins, Margareta Wahlström and Najib Mikati)
By Denis McClean
BEIRUT, 20 October 2011
- One of the world’s most earthquake-prone and heavily urbanized countries, Lebanon, is bringing together 96 mayors and other leaders from over 80 cities and municipalities for two days this week to discuss progress on disaster risk reduction across a wide range of threats.
The two-day workshop is a further sign of a major national awakening in disaster risk reduction. It follows the establishment of the Disaster Risk Management Unit in May 2009 under the office of the Prime Minister with the support of UNDP; and the creation last year of a National Committee for the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters, a blue print of measures for disaster risk reduction.
The two-day meeting which began yesterday in Beirut’s Grand Serail was opened by UN Resident Coordinator, Robert Watkins, who said that while significant steps are being taken to address hazard risks across the country “these efforts now need to be scaled up, and municipal authorities will need to be at the centre of this effort.”
Remarking on the country’s high risk of earthquakes and tsunamis as well as vulnerability to smaller-scale disasters such as floods, forest fires, land-slides and drought, Watkins said: “The risks in Lebanon appear to be especially high. In my time here, I have traveled across the country several times, and I have noted in particular the unregulated way in which buildings are constructed, in neighbourhoods, on mountainsides and along the coastlines. Often I see live electrical wires exposed to the rains, and I have witnessed how roads can quickly flood when storms hit, causing delays and cutting people’s access to services.
“I am aware that solving these and other problems is not simple. It requires cooperation amongst ministries and local authorities, and private actors as well.”
Watkins said the country is close to completing a National Disaster Response Plan and establishing a national disaster data loss base.
Speaking at the opening of the workshop, UNISDR Chief, Margareta Wahlström, said she hoped the meeting would examine “the big issues” when it comes to disaster risk reduction particularly the role it has to play in reducing poverty .
“The big question is how do we get from declarations and statements of intent to real action and that’s why in UNISDR we have decided to focus on local governments with the launch of the “Making Cities Resilient” campaign which is supported by 57 major cities and municipalities in Lebanon and almost 900 around the world.
“I understand that in Lebanon, 85 – 95 percent of the population live in towns and cities. Middle-sized cities are growing the fastest and I presume that many of you represent such cities where risk is also growing unless basic essentials are addressed such as drainage, public services, land-use and planning.”
In a meeting with the Prime Minister Najib Mikati he invited her to give him some feedback from the meeting and she informed him that the mayors and representatives of local government were requesting greater clarity on roles and responsibilities when it came to coordination issues on disaster management. They discussed roles and responsibilities at national level and cultural attitudes to risk reduction in light of the government’s decision to make disaster risk reduction a core part of training for the country’s army and civil service.
The Lebanese Army Chief of Staff, Walid Salman, told the UNISDR Chief, that the army was traditionally heavily involved in disaster response but was now looking forward to focusing more on risk reduction including a focus on earthquake preparedness, early warning systems, and search and rescue.