VENICE, 28 March 2012 - The Mayor of the fabled city of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, has been chosen by UNISDR as Europe's first Champion of Urban Resilience in recognition of his efforts to build resilience to disasters and protect cultural heritage.
Margareta Wahlström, United Nations disaster risk reduction chief, appointed Mr. Orsoni a champion as part of UNISDR's "Making Cities Resilient" campaign, which has nearly 1,000 member cities from around the world, including Venice.
The ceremony took place at a two-day conference on "Building Cities Resilience to Disasters in Europe: Protecting Cultural Heritage and Adapting to Climate Change."
Ms. Wahlström praised the city government for its active role in protecting cultural heritage with the direct involvement of citizens. "Citizens participate directly in disaster risk reduction efforts through an effective municipal civil protection system, for instance through a special group of citizen-volunteers, expressly devoted to the protection of cultural assets in case of an emergency," she said.
"Venice can be a world icon, not of fragility, but of resilience with respect to the challenges of global change," said Mayor Orsoni, referring to the heightened risk of flooding from sea level rise, resulting from climate change.
Italy, a store of cultural and artistic heritage for the world, is at tremendous risk due to massive urbanization and high exposure to a full array of natural disasters ranging from earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, landslides to forest fires, according to Franco Gabrielli, the head of the Italian Civil Protection agency.
Speaking at the event, Mr. Gabrielli said the likelihood of disasters has "increased significantly" over the last few decades, along with the degree of destruction caused by their effects.
"The floating city, the 'Queen of the Adriatic,' has resisted during its long history without altering its captivating beauty and fascination over time thanks to the constant development of specific risk prevention and monitoring skills," he said.
"Improving resilience requires continuous work built on cooperation, information exchange and common action by all the actors involved, whose work is devoted to civil protection purposes. This is why disaster risk reduction is constantly ranked at the top of the political agenda."
At the two-day event, Dubrovnik and Zagreb, Croatia, became the latest European cities to join the campaign. Nice, France, was formally recognized by Ms. Wahlström as a role model city for "involving citizens in building resilience and creating a risk culture: Intelligent City," an honor received by its Deputy Mayor, Benoit Kandel. A second French city, Sommieres en Garde, was named a role model for its work in flood prevention, and was represented by Bruno Barthez, Director of the city's Emergency Centre.
The conference, held in Venice from 19 to 20 March, was attended by European mayors, representatives of local and national governments working on disaster risk reduction in Europe, as well as regional organizations, such as Council of Europe, European Commission and private sector, three United Nations agencies -- the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Human Settlements Programme (UNHABITAT) and UNISDR.
Participants adopted the "Venice Declaration on Building Resilience at the Local Level towards Protected Cultural Heritage and Climate Change Adaptation Strategies."
The Declaration states: "We recognize that cities are living evidence, and a physical store, of cultural heritage that represent a source of cultural identity and a non-renewable human asset, and that urban disaster risks are one of the most significant threats to the preservation of such assets.
"Sustainable development must integrate disaster risk reduction and resilience building at all levels through planning across sectors to increase urban resilience to disaster.
"We resolve to further the engagement of European local level city networks in embracing resilience to disasters with a particular focus on cultural heritage protection and climate change adaptation.
"We also resolve to ensure that sustainable development strategies reflect disaster risk reduction measures at the local level for urban sustainability and resilient growth; and to encourage communities, cities and local governments to take advantage of existing sources of information such as the Making Cities Resilient campaign website, national databases and other available information related to the activities of participating [campaign] cities."
Participants resolved to integrate the Ten Essential actions of the "Making Cities Resilient" campaign into local risk reduction plans as a way to accelerate efforts to make cities safer and to prevent the loss of lives and assets, and to foster partnerships for disaster risk reduction with the private sector. They further resolved to encourage the use of the Local Government Self Assessment Tool, newly developed by UNISDR for collecting baseline information on risk reduction activities undertaken by cities.
UNISDR's Making Cities Resilient campaign, launched in 2010, demonstrates local leadership and raises awareness of how efforts to reduce disaster risk are making cities safer and more resilient. As part of their involvement in the campaign, member cities are developing and implementing local risk reduction and adaptation strategies in line with the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 -- Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters, the world's only blueprint for reducing disaster risk.