Disasters are the result of a combination of hazards and vulnerability. Risk management is about reducing that vulnerability to protect people and property; it is about saving lives and livelihoods. The tragedy unfolding in nearby Italy was a stark reminder of the stakes involved in risk reduction, as experts and decision makers came together for the 6th International Disaster and Risk Conference in Davos, which focused on ‘Integrative Risk Management - towards resilient cities’ this year.
Risk must be taken in to consideration in every aspect of development in order to be managed effectively: reducing the extent and severity of natural, technological and environmental hazards contributes to poverty reduction, improved health and resilience, explained Flavia Schlegel, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for the Natural Sciences, while giving the first keynote speech of the conference. This need for an integrated approach to risk management is reflected in the internationally agreed goals and targets defined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Reduction, but also in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “This is the approach that UNESCO is promoting,” said Flavia Schlegel, “to integrate economic aspects, political aspects but also social aspects, with ethical considerations and human rights issues”
UNESCO has made a strong commitment to the UN Plan of Action on Disaster Risk Reduction for Resilience: Towards a Risk-informed and Integrated Approach to Sustainable Development, which was revised in April 2016. “By operating at the interface between the natural and social sciences, education, culture and communication, UNESCO is a driver in constructing a global culture of resilient communities in a multi-disciplinary manner,” said Ms Schlegel. UNESCO works with member stated to promote community resilience through multi hazard early warning systems, capacity building and policy recommendations on issues that range from water management to address risks of floods and droughts, to the VISUS methodology to ensure the structural safety of educational facilities, to preparedness to specific hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis.
Organized by Global Risk Forum (GRF Davos), the conference aims to present reliable scientific facts and technological solutions and to stimulate discussion on current challenges and opportunities among representatives from diverse scientific and professional disciplines. Through the inclusion of business and policy, it facilitates the implementation of practical and innovative solutions to reduce global risks. The conference series has been under the patronage of UNESCO since 2011.
UNESCO is contributing to a session on governance, with a presentation of ecosystem based approaches in disaster risk reduction (eco-DRR) used to manage some UNESCO-designated sites. At least 25% of all biosphere reserves, 46% of world heritage natural sites and 60% of UNESCO global geoparks are exposed to at least one type of natural hazard that may turn into a disaster and threaten a site’s integrity. In some cases, vegetation types are used to control erosion, such as plantation of vetiver grass at the Dong Van Karst UNESCO Global Geopark, Viet Nam, or rice terracing at the Philippine Cordilleras World Heritage site. Coastal protection is managed by mangrove ecosystems at Sundarbans National Park, India, and the Sundarbans, Bangladesh, World Heritage sites. An intersectoral UNESCO group is currently working on strengthening disaster risk reduction at natural UNESCO sites.
Building collapse is the cause of most human and economic losses linked to natural hazards. UNESCO is also organizing the session ‘Towards a resilient built environment’. This session is an opportunity to examine building codes, sustainable architecture using local resources and traditional construction techniques that are adapted to local risks. UNESCO published revised Guidelines for Earthquake-Resistant Non-engineered Constructions in 2014.