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The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction — Day 1

June 15, 2009

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Every two years, a very important conference is held between governments, academic and science institutions, international organizations and non-governmental organizations to see how the international community can reduce disaster risks in a world of ever increasing hazards. It's called the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction and this year it is being held in Geneva.

This conference brings together thousands of people from around the globe who have experience at a national or local level in reducing risks. It is an opportunity for Mercy Corps to share our lessons from programs like those in Nepal, Indonesia and Colombia, as well as learn from other governments and organizations about what they are doing to reduce risks (please see our recent case study of Nepal's program on the Nepal page). I am here for Mercy Corps, eager to share what we have learned and take back some promising practices.

On this rather overcast morning, the International Conference Center started buzzing with different stalls being set up for a disaster risk reduction "market place" — a forum for different organizations to share promising practices on disaster risk reduction. I was here early to help set up one of the stalls. This is because Mercy Corps is part of a network called the Global Network for Civil Society Organizations, the largest network of organizations working on disaster risk reduction.

The study we are sharing in our stall, as part of the Global Network, is called "Views from the Frontline." After interviews from 4,000 people in 48 countries by 400 organizations, "Views from the Frontline" has found that, despite some advances in community preparedness and response, there is still much work to be done to help communities face the increasing number of hazards they face, especially in the face of increasing climate risks.

The six main findings from the report are:

  1. Nationally-formulated policies (as opposed to those that involve the community more) are not generating widespread systemic changes in local practices.
  2. Resources are scarce and considered one of the main constraints to progress — but there are also resources at the local level, which remain untapped.
  3. The foundation for building resilience is people's awareness and understanding of the risks they face.
  4. Climate change creates a need, but also provides an opportunity to address underlying risk factors, raise external resources and political commitment for building resilience.
  5. Turning policy into practice requires finding the appropriate balance between top-down and bottom-up engagement.
  6. The "Views from the Frontline" study is an important first step towards measuring the effectiveness of disaster risk reduction at a local level (for the full report, see www.globalnetwork-dr.org).

Therefore, as part of this conference, we are calling on the international community to support efforts to reduce risks, especially increasing support at the community level. With more than 120 governments here as well as many donors, we have a good audience to make the case that reducing risks in communities ahead of time can save lives and community assets in the face of hazards.

It is a worthwhile investment, and certainly for every dollar spent on preparedness saves several dollars in response. I am looking forward to the official opening of the conference tomorrow and reporting back.