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Disaster Risk Science Conference kicks off in China
 Date: 2014-06-07  Page Views:

BEIJING - The second Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR) Conference opened today, 7 June, at the Beijing International Convention Centre in central Beijing. With the theme "Integrated Disaster Risk Science: A Tool for Sustainability", the event has attracted over 200 participants from over 40 countries.

The Opening Ceremony was initiated by David JOHNSTON, Chair of the IRDR Science Committee and Director of the Joint Centre for Disaster Research from Massey University in New Zealand. JOHNSTON introduced the opening ceremony speakers which included Qin ZHANG, Vice President and Executive Secretary of China Association for Science and Technology, Huadong GUO, Director General of the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth (RADI), Chinese Academy of Sciences, Steven WILSON, Executive Director of the International Council for Science (ICSU) in France, Fengmin KAN, Head of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and Hanlin LI, Director General of the National Institute of Social Development, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) for the International Social Science Council (ISSC).

In his opening speech, Qin ZHANG emphasized the importance of disaster prevention within the Chinese government’s programs. Recognizing that disasters impact people’s lives and properties, the Chinese government has integrated disaster prevention into the country’s economic and social development plan. To support this, many research and engineering projects in this area have been set up. As a result, there has been remarkable progress in disaster research providing basis for the Chinese government to make decisions in preventing disasters.

Huadong GUO, Director General  of RADI also mentioned that the Chinese scientific community has been actively promoting and carrying out comprehensive research on disaster risks and risk control, and providing a scientific basis for governments at all levels to make decisions concerning disaster mitigation. Currently, RADI serves as the host institution of IRDR IPO and plays a crucial role in the monitoring and assessment of disasters using space technology.

Another speaker, Steven WILSON, Executive Director of the International Council for Science (ICSU), shared how the programme that was to become IRDR was the brainchild of ICSU during the first decade of the millennium. Picking up from the title of this IRDR Conference – Integrated Disaster Risk Science: a Tool for Sustainability, WILSON underlined the link between disaster risk and sustainable development. Scientific research and practitioner experience have clearly shown that disasters, development and poverty are intimately linked. The destruction of property and livelihoods as a result of disaster events can have far-reaching effects on local and national development gains. Stepping up to the challenge with respect to disaster risk reduction, ICSU itself has been invited to be Organizing Partner of the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai next March on behalf of the Major Group Science and Technology. This is a role that ICSU have played in the Rio+20 process and currently in the negotiation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In her speech, Fengmin KAN, Head of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific Bangkok, mentioned that as a sponsor of the IRDR International Programme, the organization has shared the same views on the much-needed science basis for effective risk reduction. KAN emphasized the need for science and technology in improving our capacity to address the impact and risk of disasters. The UNISDR Advisory Group on Science and Technology for disaster risk reduction – through their case studies – have demonstrated that science is useful, usable and used in reducing risk and building resilience in various countries. In recent years, lessons from HFA implementation revealed the critical need to address risk drivers – to halt the increase in climate-related losses, and other physical and economic losses. To address such critical needs, the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction will focus on three complementary strategic areas: 1) risk prevention (which pursues development pathways that minimize disaster risk generation); 2) risk reduction (reducing the existing accumulations of disaster risk); and 3) strengthened resilience (enabling nations and communities to absorb loss and damage, minimize the impacts of disasters, and move forward in socio-economic development in their aftermath). To achieve risk resilience, a stronger participation by the science and research community is required, providing science and evidence-based support to public and private policy makers for risk-sensitive investment. KAN highlighted the urgent need for science and the research community to strongly inform policy and practice for disaster risk reduction.

Hanlin LI, Director General of the National Institute of Social Development, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) for the International Social Science Council (ISSC) said that disasters broke down social relations, and created emotional and social panic among the affected people. As disasters bring not only physical damage, but social damages as well, they destroy the function and structure within a society and community. Disasters tear social relations apart and place people in confusion. Compared to rebuilding physical damages, it takes longer time and greater patience to help people recover from social wounds. This is the reason why ISSC is part of the IRDR programme and took on the role as one of three Co-Sponsors in this programme. Through this IRDR conference 2014, social scientists and natural scientists are given the chance to meet in person and engage in a constructive discussion and dialogue to pave the way for an effective cooperation between social and natural scientists on disaster research.

Philippine legislator, Senator Loren LEGARDA gave the Keynote Opening Speech and narrated stories from twenty-three years ago when the second largest volcanic eruption in the Philippines was recorded. The effects of Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption, after being dormant for more than 500 years, were felt worldwide. Global temperatures dropped by about 0.5 °C and 10 cubic kilometers of rock and ash were generated by the eruption, enough to bury the District of Columbia to a depth of 128 feet.

LEGARDA further shared the lessons from “Haiyan”, the world’s strongest typhoon to make landfall in the Philippines. The first lesson from “Haiyan” focused on managing the risks rather than managing disasters. LEGARDA said that disaster risk management should not be carried out only immediately before calamities happen and local government units need to be at the forefront of the planning, preparations, and execution of the plans and measures.

LEGARDA also emphasized the need for science to work for our communities and that the best solutions are possible only with the guidance of science. Hazard maps can provide a good foundation for the work of our planners and builders. The greater challenge is to translate knowledge into practice. Governments, local leaders and the people on the ground should understand the vulnerability of their communities and be equipped with options, resources, and the tools to enable them to become drivers of action.

On her speech, LEGARDA further outlined that, “We should all be disaster-literate. Sound policies and political will to implement do not complete the formula for effective disaster prevention. Action needs to come from the communities themselves. Early and mandatory evacuation would be useless if the people do not understand the need for such efforts. Our experience with Haiyan has underscored this fact,” LEGARDA said. She further stressed that citizens should be able to digest the information on a geo-hazard map or a weather bulletin. Raising public awareness should be made to resonate loudly and as far deep into the communities as possible.

Another key lesson from Haiyan stressed the need to protect our environment and pursue green urban development. LEGARDA said that building on good risk reduction practices means going back to the very basics: protecting our ecosystems and using natural buffers such as mangrove forests to mitigate floods, storm surges and other hazards.

Finally, LEGARDA said that we should prepare adequately and engage. “With adequate and proper preparation, we would already have won half the battle. Contingency plans are crucial in times of disasters. Communities must draw and test regularly their response plan way ahead of any disaster event and improve constantly on early warning systems and emergency management capacities,” she added. Quick communication, particularly real-time updates, is also vital in ensuring effective disaster response with first responders and search and rescue teams ready for dispatch anytime.

In 2012, the Philippine government, through the Department of Science and Technology, launched Project NOAH, or the Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards. This program uses science and technology in building capacities for disaster risk reduction and management. A website has been built to enable people to see real time updates and accurate information on weather predictions, flood forecasts, rainwater level and landslide warnings. Project NOAH also features the Disaster Risk Exposure Assessment for Mitigation – Light Detection and Ranging or DREAM-LIDAR Project, which seeks to produce accurate flood inundation and 3D hazard maps and seeks to identify landslide-prone areas.

“Tragedies such as Haiyan, the 2011 Japan tsunami and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami create the context for learning and growing. It is these disasters that compel action from everyone,” said LEGARDA.

In her closing statement, LEGARDA concluded, “We must not build the risks, we must build stronger and wiser.”

In addition to plenary sessions with presentations from keynote speakers from the world of hazards and disaster risk, there are 20 moderated breakout sessions on offer. Breakout sessions cover subjects as diverse as the Forensic Investigations of Disasters (the FORIN project), through meteorological issues, to communications and the media.

Qin ZHANG,Vice President and Executive Secretary of CAST delivers a speech.

Steven WILSON , Executive Director of ICSU delivers a speech.

Huadong GUO, Director General of RADI delivers a speech.

Feng Min KAN, Head of UNISDR Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific delivers a speech.

Hanlin LI, Director General of the National Institute of Social Development, CASS, delivers a speech.

A scene from the IRDR Conference. 

A group photo of IRDR Science Committee.

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