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Reflecting on the Past and Present for Futures Thinking on Disaster Risk Reduction

26/06/2021
11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
13 - Climate Action

As we develop and enhance our resiliency, the best way forward is to create a system that helps us anticipate and identify different future possibilities and helps to navigate the challenges and uncertainties of today. In support of this approach, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Regional Science Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, Jakarta; the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok; the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Accelerator Lab – Indonesia; and youth alliance group, U-INSPIRE Alliance organized a webinar on disaster risk reduction to discuss new ways of mitigating future crises and disasters on 25 June.

The webinar aimed to develop an understanding of the various factors driving the global agenda on disaster and resilience, and to identify lessons from previous responses. The webinar is part of series of activities under the Future Thinking on Disaster Risk Reduction project, which aims to promote “Futures Literacy” – the ability to become aware of why and how they use the future among young people. The webinar was organized as an introduction to the project and to set a baseline level of understanding around disaster risk reduction (DRR).

Opening the webinar, Dr. Hans D. Thulstrup, Officer in Charge of the UNESCO Jakarta Regional Science Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, discussed the importance of futures thinking informing our work forward. “With the recent global Pandemic experience, we can ensure that our current knowledge and understanding could help to reduce the risk of future unprecedented disasters. We not only need to use our past and current knowledge, but we also need to imagine and utilize the futures to help us make decisions to reduce risk and build resilience,” he said.

Echoing his remarks, Mr. Marco Toscano-Rivalta, Chief of the UNDRR Regional Office for Asia-Pacific, highlighted the important role that youth can play in reducing disaster losses. “Implementing disaster risk reduction measures to reduce disaster impact is a collective commitment and requires effort from both the community and the government. Therefore, engaging youth and young professionals in this endeavour is essential,” he said, noting that futures thinking on DRR can help improve planning and ensure that potential disasters do not prevent our societies to thrive.

Ms. Sophie Kemkhadze, Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP Indonesia, noted that futures thinking could help youth as they take charge in the future. “Understanding the future is not just about building a future vision for ideas or innovation, but it also builds a robust and calculative analysis of our present conditions and surroundings. No one is better positioned to meet future thinking than today’s youth and young professionals, which will be in leading positions of the future,” she said.

Structured into two main sessions, the webinar opened with a discussion on the theme ‘Reflection of the Past and the Present’ which aimed to highlight evolutions of thinking around disasters and resiliency over the last thirty years, including what was envisioned, what has been achieved and the remaining gaps.

Moderated by Ms. Jekulin Lipi Saikia of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY), the session featured two renowned experts on disaster risk reduction. The first speaker, Professor Rajib Shaw from Keio University in Japan, covered the history of disaster risk reduction and highlighted the established frameworks over the past decades in the international community, beginning with the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) in the early 1990s to the Hyogo Framework for Action, which ended in 2015.  Professor Shaw also shared on the evolution of thinking around risks and disasters, including the rejection of the term “natural disasters” in favour of “natural hazards”, as there is nothing natural or normal about disasters. Professor Shaw ended his talk by presenting his views on the possible future evolution of DRR, especially around governance, education, and technology.

Professor Kimio Takeya, Technical Advisor on Disaster Risk Reduction at the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) who is also a Visiting Professor at Tohoku University focused his discussion on the current state of disaster response transitioning from the Hyogo Framework. Professor Takeya shed light on how global thinking around DRR evolved in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami up to the adoption of the current global roadmap for reducing disaster losses, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. One noteworthy trend was the realization that countries needed to do more to protect development gains from disasters, hence the increased linking of DRR to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the climate change agenda. Both speakers highlighted how the different events in the past have reframed the way thinking and understanding around disasters has changed over time with an increased convergence around prevention and global cooperation.

The second part of the webinar focused on ‘Futures Thinking on Disaster Risk Reduction’, where speakers reflected on the need to adopt innovative approaches towards DRR, focusing on Futures Thinking. This session was moderated by Ms. Sachi Suzuki of UNESCO. The first speaker was Mr. Bas Leurs, the Lead Learning Designer at UNDP’s Accelerator Lab Network which focused on the topic of adopting new ways of learning to adopt to 21st century challenges that is increasingly complex and interconnected. Mr.Leurs highlighted that in order to deal with exponential levels of uncertainty and to accommodate the accelerating pace of change, we need to learn faster and generate more actionable knowledge that can be immediately implemented. One of the ways to do so is by reflecting on our actions and thoughts and identify room for incremental improvements, which leads to challenging our mental models or framings to enable new paradigms. Followed by Dr. Riel Miller, Head of Futures Literacy, UNESCO Paris, that introduced Futures Literacy as a capability in providing people with some of the skills needed to learn from the future. Understanding the future better would equip the current generation with ability to take control of the future and practice improvisation, ultimately enabling a different view of empowerment against uncertainties and complexities. Futures Literacy is one of the necessity skills to navigate in this era of volatility, starting with questioning initial assumptions and biases about the future. This session was wrapped up by Ms. Nurul Sri Rahatiningtyas from the U-INSPIRE Alliance, that introduced more details on “Futures Thinking in Disaster Risk Reduction Activities in 2021”. The series of activities invites youth and young professionals to engage with the future through Webinars, Futures Literacy Laboratory, and Let’s Talk DRR dialogues which are planned until the end of the year.

All three speakers advocated for a greater focus on developing new ways of thinking, including through the use of ‘Futures Thinking’ amongst youths and young professionals. These new ways of thinking would equip the current generation with the skills they need to better anticipate and plan for the future.

The webinar was closed by Mr. Sufyan Aslam, Co-Chair of the U-INSPIRE Alliance. He appreciated the excellent historical lessons about DRR, starting from 1984 until today, noting that a lot of reframing of processes and changes that occurred over time have shaped how we move forward to the future. He especially invited youth and young professionals to change their way of thinking and to explore the different methods, ideas and processes that can be used to anticipate and better plan for the future through the concept of reframing. Mr. Aslam also called on the participants to engage in the upcoming collaborative events that will be held as part of this project, leading up to the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, which will be organized in Bali, Indonesia, in May 2022

Watch the webinar here