The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction - Day 2

June 16, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Tej Maya/Mercy Corps  </span>
    In western Nepal's disaster-prone Kailali district, Mercy Corps has helped train communities in search and rescue techniques, as well as evacuation using boats, life jackets, ropes and throw bags. Photo: Tej Maya/Mercy Corps

The sun came out in Geneva this morning and 1,800 people from governments, the UN, international organizations, science and academic institutions gathered to discuss the progress we're all making on disaster risk reduction efforts around the world.

One hundred and sixty nine governments are represented here, and many dignitaries spoke about experiences how their countries are making disaster risk reduction a priority on the national level. It was a breath of fresh air to have the the Global Network's "Views from the Frontline" study — which I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry — presented because it added a local perspective to the discussion.

Mercy Corps is part of the Global Network, and we sit on the steering committee on behalf of InterAction, the largest U.S. consortium of non-governmental organizations. The study, presented briefly at the opening address, shares views and perspectives from communities in 48 countries. Even John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and chair of this conference, visited the Global Network stall at the Marketplace while I was there and he seemed impressed by the report.

The primary report that was presented during the opening address, however, covered the overall progress made at a national level and analyzed global disaster risks. I was particularly struck by a call for the international community to consider focusing upon three main drivers of risk. They are:

  1. Poor urban governance — many governments are simply incabable of ensuring safe land and adequate infrastructure with growing urbanization, and this is presenting a great risk to the millions of people who continue migrating to cities.
  2. Vunerable rural livelihoods — approximately 75 percent of people living below the poverty line live and work in rural areas. They are especially vunerable to crop or livestock losses, usually have vunerable infrastructures, are isolated and lack substantial investment by their governments.
  3. Declining ecosystems — although people and communities receive substantial benefits from diverse ecosystems, their resources are in high demand and protection is not prioritized.

The presentation called on the international community to focus development policy on addressing these underlying risk drivers, as well as other recommendations such as accelerating efforts to avoid climate change and increasing the economic resilience of small and vunerable economies.

The afternoon panel focused on how to finance disaster risk reduction. This was a real mixed bag for me because, rather than suggest new and innovative ideas for financing, several government officials just called for more resources for their countries. Representatives from the Philippines and Indonesia, however, shared successes they have had in getting national level policy in place and putting resources towards reducing risks.

In fact, there were comments from the audience and the Indonesian representative about how putting disaster risk reduction into exisiting development money should be a priority to safeguard development investments. It shouldn't be viewed as an added sector, but integral to all development work. I could not help but think about how own programs in Indonesia and Nepal, where we have been able to get the local government, as well as the community members themselves, to contribute towards local disaster risk reduction.

Money should not prevent us from trying to reduce risk in the development initiatives we already have going. The representative from Indonesia went as far as saying that the his country's government is considering using as much as 20 percent of the money earmarked in the education budget to inform the populace of risks because Indonesia is so diasaster prone.

In general, there was a strong call to integrate both disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation into development programs. With all the panels were completed, I happily retreated with colleagues to review the day.