Ms. Margareta Wahlström, head of UNISDR (right), and Mr. Tahar Melizi, Algeria's National Delegate for Major Risks (centre), listen as a local official (left) in the Algerian city of Boumerdès details the community's recovery from the 2003 earthquake (Photo: UNISDR)
By Lars Bernd
Algiers, 3 June 2015 – Earthquake-prone Algeria offers a case study of how legislation and commitment can help build resilience, as it prepares to implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
During a visit to the North African country, UNISDR head Ms. Margareta Wahlström lauded Algeria’s work since the devastating Boumerdès earthquake a decade ago.
“I would like to underline that the actions and achievements of Algeria in reducing disaster risks are already significant, and I encourage you to continue reinforcing them, and also to share your expertise with your neighbours,” Ms. Wahlström said in a speech at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, the country’s top civil service college.
The 6.8-magnitude earthquake of 21 May, 2003, struck 45 kilometres east of the capital Algiers. It claimed 2,566 lives and injured thousands more, as well as damaging tens of thousands of homes. The disaster led Algeria to accelerate a process of reducing risk which had begun in the 1980s when it had also been hit by a devastating quake.
In 2004, the country adopted its Law on Prevention of Major Risks and Disaster Management, as well as the National Scheme for Land Use Planning, which was updated in 2010 with risk-sensitive provisions for land management and urban planning, and provides a roadmap through to 2030. That tallies with the timeline of the 2015-2030 Sendai Framework, adopted by the international community in March to replace the Hyogo Framework, a global accord which had guided disaster risk reduction efforts since 2005.
“The 2004 law is a very good example of what should be done in every country: the creation of a solid legislative base which underpins the creation of a system and mechanisms adapted to meet current and future risks within a context of sustainable development,” Ms. Wahlström said.
The Sendai Framework calls specifically for a substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health, as well as for the defence of economic and environmental assets of individuals, businesses, communities and countries. To achieve this, it urges strong commitment and involvement of political leadership in every country at all levels in the implementation and follow-up of the framework.
Ms. Wahlström said Algeria can use the Sendai Framework to chart its future course, with a mix of national and local decision making.
“It is now time to complete the very good disaster risk management set-up by using the national coordination mechanism to establish a national strategy to complement existing sectoral approaches. Similarly, Algeria is well-placed to further decentralize disaster risk reduction through capacity-building of local and provincial stakeholders and full integration in local development plans,” she said, adding that it was also crucial to ensure that investment was risk-sensitive.
During her visit, Ms. Wahlström met senior officials including the Minister of Interior and Local Authorities, Mr. Nouredine Bedoui.
“We know that we have come a long way and made progress on disaster risk reduction in various sectors. This includes our expertise in disaster risk reduction-related science and technology. Algeria is committed to still improve its existing system to make it even more efficient at local level. We also stand ready to share our expertise to improve disaster risk management approaches in other countries, in the Arab region and world-wide,” Mr. Bedoui said.
Algeria is home to two world-class centres on applied research in seismic construction earthquake risk surveillance -- expertise recognized by the League of Arab States, which has named Algiers host of its new seismic risk centre.
Ms. Wahlström’s visit coincided with an four-day earthquake simulation exercise, with observers from international bodies and countries including France, Italy, Mali, Morocco, Spain and Tunisia. Seventy Algerian experts have also taken part in search and rescue operations in Nepal.