NNA - Beirut Municipality Head, Bilal Hamad's presentation at the Fourth Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva, magnificently resonated with the attending international audience on Thursday, as he delivered Lebanon's word at a session titled Government and Hyogo Framework for Action II (HFA 2): A Sustainable Engagement, in the presence of Project Manager of the Disaster Risk Management Unit in Lebanon Mrs. Nathalie Zaarour, and Member of Beirut City Council, Nada Yamout.
"Lebanon is subject to a wide range of natural hazards; the biggest threat being of a severe earthquake and/or an associated Tsunami," Hamad said as delivering a briefing on the risks that Lebanon fears most.
He explained that threats affected the capital, Beirut, which is the largest city in Lebanon (with an estimated 1.2 million inhabitants), and the main contributor to the country's GDP.
"In fact, it is one of the coastal cities that have been subjected to severe earthquakes and tsunamis over the centuries. Furthermore, a new underwater survey has revealed that Lebanon lies dangerously close to a fault that could generate a catastrophic tsunami -- the same fault caused a tsunami-generating earthquake that destroyed Beirut in 551 AD," he explained.
Therefore, Hamad suggested that investment in disaster preparedness before a natural hazard occurs reduced the need for humanitarian action.
"Every dollar spent on preparing for disasters saves around seven dollars in economic losses," he said.
Hamad also briefed the session participants on achievements within the fame of DRR in Lebanon, such as ccapacity building on DRR achieved through several trainings and workshops.
"A number of awareness raising documents have been produced, starting with a basic guide on disaster risk reduction which was distributed to municipalities and a quarterly newsletter comprising information on DRR and on the project, and acting as a main channel of communication that keeps the targeted groups informed on the previous and upcoming activities," he explained
The launching of drills at universities with the Lebanese Army, Lebanese Red Cross, and Civil Defence aiming at raising the awareness of university students and staff on DRR, as well as guiding them in conducting evacuation drills, are also among the achievements that Hamad had listed.
Hamad also shared with conferees Beirut Municipality's action plan within the frame of DRR, such as allocating in the few years to come the necessary budgets to address the requirements of integrating risk reduction into the development process, initiating a database on risks and hazards that Beirut city has or will encounter, protecting heritage sites, and initiating a pilot project for the safety of public schools.
He also mentioned establishing the "Urban Planning" Municipal Committee to strengthen the urban governance and promote the adequate urban planning, hence boosting the resilience of the city.
With regard to the main barriers that slow down the implementation of DRR in Lebanon, Hamad highlighted the fact that DRR was not being a priority in Lebanon, and that public memory of certain kinds of disasters was not very fresh.
"This makes it is difficult to sensitize people to risk," he said, to also mention weak accountability, and the fact that efforts were mostly made on response rather than prevention.
Moreover, Hamad mentioned some measures that can accelerate and scale up political attention to DRR such as lessons learnt from previous experiences (Fassouh building, storms, Ethiopian air cash), increase awareness within threatened population to advocate for enforcing DRR measures.
Hamad concluded his presentation by suggesting some priorities to be included in HFA2.
"Allocating the right resources to begin risk reduction activities, implementing a risk assessment plan at the local government level, assessment to include Beirut's major critical infrastructure towards disaster risk reduction strategies -- so that the city becomes more resilient to earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as ensuring that land use, urban planning and building codes include measures for reducing disaster risk," Hamad said.
On the other hand, Lebanon's word at today's plenary session at the Global Platform was delivered by the first Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Lebanon to the UN, Bashir Azzam, who said that one of the main drivers to elevating DRR to a high level on the agenda in Lebanon was the sustained political interest and commitment from the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, which in 2009, and with support from UNDP, formulated a 'Strengthening Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Capacities in Lebanon's project, that aims to help the Lebanese Government develop its disaster management and corresponding risk reduction strategy.
"These concrete accomplishments, towards risk reduction and prevention of disaster losses in lives and assets, could not have been made possible without the support of UNISDR and SDC, as well as the concerned agencies and stakeholders including ministries, media, private sector, civil society and academics among others," Azzam said in a statement he delivered on behalf of the Lebanese delegation.
He also underscored Lebanon's need to elevate DRR public awareness, and implement the desired strategies to build the country's resilience.
"Concerted efforts and partnerships at the national and international level need to be reinforced for Lebanon to attain its vision of becoming a model in DRR in the region," he said.
"The Global Platform presents a unique opportunity to improve Lebanon's communication and coordination with international as well as local stakeholders," he added.
Besides, Nathalie Zaarour, the head of the DRR Management Unit in Lebanon, represented Lebanon at a session titled 'Regional time slot for Arab states", during which she shared footage displaying Lebanon's endeavors ensuring a disaster resilient nation, within the frame of DRR.
"This footage summarizes Lebanon's efforts in planning for greater disaster resilience. In past years, the country has learned a great deal from its history of disaster response and recovery experiences. It is now planning to implement a more systematic disaster risk reduction agenda by institutionalizing measures for disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness. The country is also taking steps to strengthen and coordinate its capacities for disaster response and recovery," Zaarour said.
She made mention a number of points which were driving Lebanon's disaster risk reduction momentum including political will and leadership, local collaboration, and regional and international partnerships.
"In a relatively short period of time, since 2009, these entry points have helped lay the foundation for a comprehensive, popular and collaborative disaster risk reduction agenda. Lebanon's experience also illustrates that maintaining continuity in risk governance is critical to building resilience," Zaarour said.
At a session tilted "Heritage and Resilience", the Mayor of Byblos Mr. Ziad Hawat, represented Lebanon in the company of Mr. Tony Sfeir and Ms. Nathalie Zaarour.
In his delivered word, Hawat said that cultural heritage sites were considered major engines for economic opportunities, education, social and cultural life.
"The mission of protecting major Lebanese cultural heritage in historic areas will effectively engage various stakeholders at the national and regional levels," said Hawat, who stressed the paramount importance of adapting policies and plans at the national and local levels to mitigate the damage of catastrophes.
He said that the European countries have a long history of preserving their cultural heritage. Today, Lebanon has much to learn from the EU's experience and role models in preserving its own cultural heritage sites, he added.
He briefed session members on Byblos city's partnership with other local governments, "a thing in which the city finds a lot of support."
"We agreed to initiate a twinning project in June 2011 which began by bringing together experts and practitioners from Venice and representatives of the Lebanese government and the Municipality of Byblos," he said within the frame of protecting the city of Byblos from future calamities.
"Together we have been exploring issues related to implementing an integrated approach for the protection of the ancient harbor of Byblos -- an important marine and adjoining archeological site with Phoenician, Roman and Medieval remains," he concluded.
In turn, Mohamed Saadieh, the President of Dannieh Municipalities Union, expressed belief that "action must be taken to save our people and to plan for ways in which we can reduce disasters risk."
He said that Dannieh was classified as a sensitive region, and that some of the problems that encounter this region were: deforestation, soil erosion, desertification, air pollution from vehicular traffic and the burning of industrial wastes and pollution of coastal waters from raw sewage and oil spills.
"Mudflows lead to negative impact on the environment and could cause forest loss in the region which is very green. We have a history with soil erosion and mudflows -- a whole town was affected by it in the past," he said.
At the International level, the Global Platform had been an occasion for voices from around the world to urge disaster management and climate change adaptation practitioners to take greater account of indigenous knowledge and expertise in building community resilience to withstand natural hazards.
While acknowledging technical and scientific advances in climate change adaptation and disaster management, participants in a plenary session on strengthening community resilience called for a closer watch on the outward signs of change in nature to help address these issues.
At a High-Level Dialogue, the participating Government Ministers, business executives and senior experts called for urgent action to address the existing, and growing risks, faced by communities and nations across the world. Participants underscored the need to support the most vulnerable, such as children, women and people with disabilities, to build their resilience to disasters.
The participants recognized the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Regional Platforms for their highly inclusive participation and as key mechanisms in the consultations for the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction. Participants also emphasized the central role of women in protecting vulnerable groups as well as in building community resilience.
The High-Level Dialogue also acknowledged the increased efforts of countries to reduce disaster risk, following the adoption of the Hyogo Framework for Action. Whereas some results have been achieved, like the reduction of mortality from weather-related disasters in particular, risk continues to increase due to the existing public and private investment policies and development practices.
They also issued a call "to develop nationally agreed standards for hazard risk assessments especially of critical infrastructure (including schools, health centers, electricity and water supply systems, nodal ITC centres, road and transport systems) by 2015."
In another event at the Global Platform, the inventor of the world's first interactive digital globe that graphically depicts the vulnerability of our planet to disasters, challenged global policymakers to show more leadership in tackling the growing risks facing populations worldwide.
"What is important is not the technology but our vision for the future of the planet," said Prof Shinichi Takemura, the inventor of the Tangible Earth as he demonstrated his interactive globe at the 4th Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction and showed how users of tablets and smartphones can now link to an interactive digital version of UNISDR's new Global Assessment Report.
In a press conference for journalists covering the global platform events, European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid, Kristalina Georgieva, expressed firm belief that the world could only face future disasters collectively. She also capitalized Europe's key role in discussions leading to HFA2.
"We are looking forward to the post-HFA2 and will make sure that DDR is everybody's business; a thing that we haven't achieved yet!" said Georgieva.
With regard to ongoing efforts to join world forces in the face of future calamities, Georgieva said, "we are in the right direction, but we need more speed to get there on time."
Moreover, she highlighted the importance of getting the private sector more involved in DRR strategies in areas such as risk assessment and creating solutions for disaster response.
"The role of a government is to create incentives, where as the role of a business is to come up with solutions," she said.
Also, at the biennial UN-Sasakawa Award ceremony, two of the world's most disaster-prone countries, Bangladesh and Brazil, shared this prize which was presented to the laureates by the Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlstr?m, in the presence of the sponsor and chairman of the Nippon Foundation, Yohei Sasakawa.
Mr. Sasakawa said that the theme of this year's Award was "Acting as One" which the Nippon Foundation had put into action following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami by working with businesses and NGOs to conduct training workshops on how to operate accessible evacuation shelters for the disabled in times of emergency.