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The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction — Day 4

June 18, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Youth are naturally motivated by new challenges and can be great teachers when they're convinced something is important. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Nathan Golon for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Youth relate well to different kinds of participatory and active methodologies, and they can be crucial in mobilizing their communities around preparedness activities. Photo: Nathan Golon for Mercy Corps

It is always nice when things you are really interested in come together. Today, on day 4 of the Global Platform, two topics that came together for me were Sphere and disaster risk reduction.

Sphere is three things: a handbook to help those who are undertaking humanitarian action, a broad process of collaboration and an expression of commitment to quality and accountability. The project has developed several tools, the key one being a handbook which they are now revising to include disaster risk reduction.

This morning, I attended a consultatitive meeting on the handbook revision. In addition to the inclusion of disaster risk reduction, the handbook will also include important topics such as climate change adaptation and the environment. At the meeting, we were able to break out into small groups and discuss how we can improve the handbook to include these additions and the best ways to go about it. As usual, several Mercy Corps staff will be collaborate on the process with colleagues from other organizations. We are already active on many revision committees.

I have also been thinking a lot about how governments (and non-governmental organizations like Mercy Corps) are mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into their development platforms. There were several presentations by Asian governments at the Platform on the work they are doing to include it in various development sectors — particularly in health, education, agriculture, housing and infrastructure. It must be a difficult task for a government to get so many departments thinking and coordinating on preparedness and mitigation in their specialties if they don't already, but it's extremely crucial. It's very exciting that this work is being done.

Another session that was interesting to me featured two young people who had been working on disaster risk reduction in their communities. They were asked to share their experiences — their presentation confirmed to me the importance of getting youth involved in our disaster risk reduction programs. And, in fact, they are usually at the center of our programs: examples include Central Asia, where we worked with young rescuers clubs, and in our recent program in Nepal that uses youth mobilizers in the communities.

We have found that, when we work with youth, they are naturally motivated by new challenges and can be great teachers when they're convinced something is important. We have had the most success with youth when we have implemented activities like school competitions (in first aid and basic response) and dramas to share knowledge about disaster risk reduction. Youth relate well to these different kinds of participatory and active methodologies, and they can be crucial in mobilizing their communities around preparedness activities.

The disaster risk recovery and education session was moderated by the British journalist Martin Bell, who gave a plea to donors to focus more on children in disasters. Both the European Union and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) were on the panel and seemed to be committed to this.

In a later session, the discussion revolved around climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Despite funds and programs being designated for climate change adaptation, there are many people who see it as one mitigation strategy under disaster risk reduction. In other words, disaster risk reduction focuses on reducing the risks of hazards in general, while climate change adaptation is a tool to reduce the risks of climate hazards in particular.

At Mercy Corps, we recognize that a community has many hazards and many of them will be exasperated by climate change. We also know that a community may have hazards that are not climate-related, and we must not forget these. We believe the most important thing is to have the community identify their hazards — including those that may arise from climate change — and support them to prepare and mitigate against these hazards by using adaptation, preparedness training, small infrastructure works, and/or a combination of whatever is needed and appropriate.

It's clear that, when the community is at the center of our work and youth at the center of our activites, we have the best chance of having an appropriate and energetic partnership.

Tomorrow will be the last day of the Platform and I look forward to sharing the main "take away" points with all of you.