Disaster Risk Reduction: Preparing for the 2005 World Conference

Published: 11 October 2004

Chair,

Thank you for this opportunity to speak on behalf of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, our National Societies in virtually every country, and the 97 million volunteers who are the backbone of all meaningful community life-saving work when disasters strike.

We will be taking an active part in the World Conference. We are particularly grateful to the Government of Japan for its generosity in hosting this important event - and to the people of Kobe-Hyogo for their work. It is a fitting way to remember the terrible earthquake which struck them ten years ago.

That earthquake, and this commemoration, shows that disasters strike all countries. The poor are hit hardest, but the experience of others in developed countries or wealthier communities is absolutely relevant to the development of meaningful programs to benefit the poorest and the most vulnerable.

We will intervene with detail on specific points, but would like to offer some special messages to delegates at this early debate stage.

- Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are auxiliaries to the public authorities of their countries in the humanitarian field. As such, they work closely with governments at all levels, but also form bridge linking governments to civil society. This is indispensable for successful risk reduction programs.

- The link to communities is essential. Our experience tells us, again and again, that most people are saved by their neighbours when disasters strike.

- This is why we argue, and will continue to underline at the World Conference, that there must be ample voice given to communities and the local levels when devising programs for people at risk. Approaches must be people-centred.

A great deal has been done on Disaster Reduction since the first World Conference in Yokohama. Especially through work at the community level, and the countries where the results have been best are those where governments have recognised the benefits of local Red Cross Red Crescent and other involvement by NGOs and Community-Based Organisations.

Mr Chairman, although we stress the importance of involving communities in this work, this does not mean that the well-prepared community is a paradise island. Far from it. They cannot work or reduce risk in isolation. This is why the main theme of the 2004 edition of the International Federation's publication "World Disasters Report" (to be launched later this month) is community resilience. The theme, and the exchanges of experience, and the learning it shows communities have done from each other across the world, is directly relevant to the World Conference.

It is our hope that thematic approaches to be addressed at the World Conference will also pick up from some of the findings to be published in the World Disasters Report. One group of findings which is particularly relevant is that which indicates that external top-down approaches must be informed by bottom-up learning if they are to make any real difference to the situation.

There must be a genuine effort to understand how people and communities at risk cope and recover from disasters. Equally, there must be a clear willingness on the part of all governments and participants in disaster risk reduction to build on the knowledge and experience of the local level, and adapt approaches accordingly to meet local conditions and priorities.

Sharing experience between communities must be matched by sharing experience between governments and all others with a role in risk reduction. The sharing must be both across national borders and within countries. That is why we are so pleased to see that several governments have included members of their Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies - the people with the strong field experience and technical expertise - in their delegations to this Prepcom. For the same reasons, the International Federation's own delegation includes a mixture of experience from National Societies as well, and also importantly from the Red Cross Red Crescent Centre on Climate Change and Disaster Preparedness in The Hague.

The combined experience enables us to examine disaster risk reduction from many different perspectives, and to link with communities to identify the most pressing vulnerabilities for the most immediate action.

This has led us to examine the way governments might valuably respond to the different needs, and we have been interested in the way some have spoken encouragingly about the way risk reduction can be enhanced by dedication to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

The International Federation considers that all eight of the Goals have their place in risk reduction, but for the purposes of this debate we would single out three for special reference:

- MDG 1, on poverty alleviation, has overarching relevance to disaster risk reduction.

- MDG 2, on universal primary education, is almost a prerequisite to the successful development of risk reduction programs at the community level.

- MDG 8, on partnerships for development, is crucial. Without partnerships, including with Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, government policies will carry little weight at the disaster site itself.

Thank you, Mr Chairman, and we are sure that under your wise guidance and with the support of a very strong Bureau and Secretariat this Prepcom will lay the basis for a very valuable Conference next January.

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The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 189 member National Societies. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright