Senior officials take to the stage at the high-level session of the European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction, which has drawn 500 participants to Istanbul from across the continent (Photo: AFAD)
By Jonathan Fowler
ISTANBUL, Turkey, 27 March 2017 – People and their communities must be at the heart of efforts to reduce the impacts of natural and human-induced hazards, senior officials told Europe’s annual disaster risk summit today.
“Reducing the risk and losses of disasters is a collective effort. It requires collective action,” said Mr. Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, at the European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction.
“For us, the model is that no-one is left behind. We focus on the human being. Without engagement at the local level, it’s very difficult to cope with any disaster. This is why we all need to build a culture of resilience and foster disaster risk reduction,” he said.
Like other developed regions, Europe is particularly susceptible to high disaster bills due to the value of its exposed assets.
Last year’s earthquakes in central Italy killed 299 people and left 23.53 billion euros in damage. In southern Germany, floods last May and June affected more than 47,000 people and cost 1 billion euros. The sum was similar in France’s own June floods, which killed 18 people. Annual average disaster losses in the European Union alone are 10 billion euros, Mr. Stylianides noted.
Currently chaired by Turkey, a disaster risk reduction leader, the European Forum began on Sunday with informal sessions, before the official track on Monday and Tuesday.
Created in 2009, the European Forum spans the continent, and the meeting has drawn 500 participants to the megalopolis of Istanbul. Past sessions have only involved government experts, but this edition marks an expansion to non-profit organisations, lawmakers, researchers and others working at the interface of disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change adaptation.
“We are all united in our common desire to prevent disasters where we can and to reduce disaster losses where we cannot,” said Mr. Robert Glasser, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.
He underscored that the Sendai Framework for Disaster Reduction – a 15-year global agreement adopted in 2015, with seven targets including major reductions in mortality and economic impacts – dovetails with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
“This region recognises the opportunity there is now to ensure that plans for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation merge to avoid duplication of effort and to maximise the use of resources to reduce loss of life, numbers of people affected, economic losses and damage to critical infrastructure,” Mr. Glasser said.
“National and local strategies for reducing disaster risk, including climate risk, will be the bedrock for reducing disaster losses by 2030.”
Mr. Vaysi Kaynak, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, also emphasised the importance of taking people’s needs into account when it comes to curbing disaster risk.
“Wherever there’s a human being, that person matters,” he said.
“We know that if we want to fight against disasters, first of all we have to change the mentality of society,” he added, explaining that that also meant raising public awareness, ensuring that infrastructure was hazard-proof, and harnessing cutting-edge technology notably for early warning and damage forecasting.
In the aftermath of the devastating 1999 Marmara Earthquake, Turkey shifted from a disaster response-based policy to the risk-focused approach now epitomised by the Sendai Framework. For example, it has retrofitted schools and hospitals to make them safe havens, and is a driving force in efforts to do so globally.
Turkey’s AFAD national disaster management authority, created in 2009, is part of the prime minister’s office.
“We’re trying to mitigate or remove all risks,” said Mr. Halis Bilden, President of AFAD, pointing to a programme that has already trained seven million Turks in risk reduction.
The European Forum has catalysed regional efforts. More than 30 member countries now have disaster risk reduction laws, compared to five in 2005. And there are over 670 European local governments in UNISDR’s Making Cities Resilient network, a twentyfold rise from 2010.
Increasing the number of countries around the world with national and local risk reduction strategies is the earliest target of the Sendai Framework, fixed for 2020. It will be critical for achieving the other six by 2030.
The European Forum adopted a Sendai Framework implementation roadmap at its 2015 session in France, and has been fine-tuning it since then.
The Istanbul meeting also has significance beyond Europe, coming ahead of May’s 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, in Mexico.
“That’s why this meeting is so important, so that we exchange views as Europeans and formulate our common position just before this international event,” Mr. Stylianides said.