NNA - Geneva - The global consequences of disasters, and the need for strengthening resilience through partnerships and investment, were stressed at the opening ceremony of the fourth session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, held in Geneva this morning, which opened to the record presence of 46 high level participants from 30 governments, including Lebanon's Caretaker Environment Minister, Nazem Khoury, and the Lebanese Ambassador to the Permanent Mission of the United Nations in Geneva, Najlaa Asaker.
Opening the session, the landmark event's key speakers did not fail to voice many expressions of sympathy to the people of Oklahoma City over the loss of life caused yesterday by a deadly tornado that damaged schools and took many lives including those of at least 20 schoolchildren.
In his delivered speech at the opening session, Martin Dahinden, Director-General of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation, said the Platform provided an opportunity to draw on lessons learned from the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) for 2005-2015, which outlined the work required from all sectors and actors to reduce disaster losses. The Platform would also continue consultations on a post-2015 framework - the HFA2 - that is expected to strengthen cooperation and foster better resilience to disasters, he noted.
Security and safety are not free, said Ueli Maurer, President of Switzerland, but were worth the cost in order to save lives, guarantee means of subsistence and protect property. Expressing his country's condolences to the victims of the tornado that had struck Oklahoma just a few hours earlier, he said that disasters were of concern to everyone, no matter where they occurred. The post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction should consider the issues in a more global context, taking account of environmental concerns and broader development goals, including resilience at the national, regional and local levels. It should also involve better coordination of food security and natural resource management.
Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said that waiting for catastrophes to strike before taking action was neither acceptable nor tenable; it was like sending a fire truck to a house that had already burned down. Disasters such as the Oklahoma tornado posed a host of challenges when they struck developed countries, but were even more dangerous in the developing world, especially in least developed countries and small island developing States, which faced the additional burden of climate change. He stressed the cross-cutting nature of disaster risk reduction, which was essential to reaching the Millennium Development Goals and which should also be part of a new global approach to sustainable development. The United Nations was accordingly stepping up its support to countries through a joint plan of action to reduce disaster risk and build resilience.
Marco Mukoso Hausiku, the Deputy Prime Minister of Namibia, Marisa Helena Nascimento Morais, the Minister of Home Affairs of Cape Verde Nikki Kaye, Minister of Civil Defense of New Zealand, as well as Graciela Ortuzar, Mayor of Lampa, Chile, had also been key speakers at the opening session. Their words shed light on their courtiers' experiences within the frame of DRR.
In an intervention made by Caretaker Environment Minister following the opening session, he briefed attending delegations on Lebanon's growing quandary in light of the massive and uncontrollable exodus of Syrian refugees into Lebanese territories, in addition to the huge number of Palestinian refugees who already exist in the country. He said that both, Syrians and Palestinians put together, were equivalent to %25 of the Lebanese population.
"Lebanon can't make it on its own handling those swelling numbers," said the Minister, requesting the international community's technical and financial support to help Lebanon safely manage this plight.
In a side event titled "The Economics of Disaster Risk Reduction - Promoting Sustainable Development through DRR Investments", the United Nations Secretary Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Robert Watkins, delivered a word shedding light on the central importance of investing in reducing disaster risk as a necessary condition in today's world for achieving sustainable development.
"While the relentless expansion of the "built environment" comes hand in hand with new economic and social opportunities, the concurrence of population growth, urbanization and natural hazards, sustainability must be a key factor in disaster prevention and response as never before," said Watkins.
He shone light on the many challenges including policy makers' limited budgets and time horizons, as well as the "public's sometimes short memory and the private sector's focus on the bottom line."
To overcome these we must make the case stronger and more persuasive, with more scientific evidence and compelling economic logic on the basis of practical policy recommendations, suggested Watkins.
He also underscored the fact that governments were not capable of handling the responsibility of disasters.
"Alignment between the public and private sectors, with vertical ties across local, national, and global actors (…) is the key to leveraging the critical mass necessary in the face of disaster," he added.
The Lebanese delegation, which comprises the Project Manager of the Disaster Risk Management Unit in Lebanon Mrs. Nathalie Zaarour, Chief Secretary of Army Staff for Operations, Colonel Jean Nabih Farah, Public Relations Chief at the Internal Security Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Moussallem, Member of Beirut City Council, Nada Yamout, Ms. Fadia Lanoun of NASCO KARAOGLAN, and Mr. Joe S. Tohme, the President and CEO of Sa Domaine de L'etoile, have also been active at different side events, during which they shared the Lebanese experience in DRR.
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Moussallem represented Lebanon at a workshop tilted Information and Knowledge Management (IKM) for Disaster Risk Reduction. This workshop was an opportunity to identify the IKM needs and requirements for National and Regional Platforms and national coordinating mechanisms, as well as measures for implementation. It also discussed the means to improve the understanding of knowledge brokering in the DRR and CCA domains, and was an opportunity to share knowledge of best IKM practices.
Workshop participants also worked on developing information and knowledge management principles for DRR and an IKM4DRR framework towards 2015 and beyond, to support national and regional DRR coordination.
In turn, the Chief Secretary of Army Staff for Operations, Jean Nabih Farah, delivered a lecture titled "Effective Partnering Between the Military and Civil Institutions in Disaster Risk Reduction in Lebanon."
In his presentation, Farah briefed attendees on the fact that Lebanon (Middle East) is located in an earthquake prone-area (of the seismically active Dead Sea Transform Fault), and is highly vulnerable to earthquakes and flood risk. This fact exposes the country to hazards in terms of people & infrastructure, he said.
He listed the many threats that Lebanon has endured thus far, including earthquakes, floods, tsunamis (In the years 365, 551, 1303, 1505, 1908, 1956 and in 2003 which lightly hit the shores of Greece, Cyprus, and Lebanon), forest fires, and landslides, as well as foreign military attacks, armed conflicts, and terrorism acts.
Farah also briefed conferees on a project underway to implement a national response plan (NRP) in Lebanon. He said that in 2010, the Prime Minister established a National Committee for Disaster Risk Reduction, which included representatives from various agencies and departments involved in the management of disasters and crises in Lebanon.
"The National Committee developed a "national response plan" (NRP), which includes the roles and responsibilities of all bodies and public administrations in the stages of preparedness, response, recovery and early recovery. The national response plan (NRP) will be undergoing an administrative process in 2013-2014 for implementation," he added.
Farah also delivered many reasons why a national response plan was an integral part of the DRR process, including weakness in the coordination between the various departments and agencies, lack of specialized expertise in disaster management, the shortage of funds and inability to secure the necessary equipment and materials. He also mentioned the lack of legislation and the application of relevant laws, the lack of contingency plans for intervention and response at the level of some concerned sectors, the absence of national culture to deal with disasters, as well as the lack of media policy and national awareness of disaster risk reduction.
In turn, Member of Beirut City Council, Nada Yamout, participated in a high level meeting with Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson. The meeting was an occasion to exchange views among cities and UN leaderships on how local governments could be more firmly represented in global discussions to define the Hyogo Framework for Action two HFA2, and the broader post 2015 development agenda.
It is to note that some 4,800 have registered to attend the Global Platform - organized by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - including delegates from 165 governments, 130 academic institutions, 209 NGOs and 67 private sector companies.