As governments, the United Nations and other organisations met to move forward the disaster risk reduction agenda in the Middle East/North Africa region, the International Federation called for the greater participation of civil society and more focus on risk reduction work at the local level.
During the recent regional workshop on “Building Partnerships for Disaster Risk Reduction”, held in Cairo from April 18 to 21, and organized by the UN/ISDR and the World Bank, the Federation Secretariat, together with the Egyptian Red Crescent Society, shared its local, regional and global experiences in both strengthening humanitarian response and in building safer and resilient communities.
“Our long experience in bringing assistance to victims of natural disasters has shown us that investing in risk reduction and disaster preparedness is vital and effective,” explains Anne E. Leclerc, Head of the Federation’s Tunis Office and a participant at the Cairo workshop. “We have practised what we preach for many years. The big difficulty was getting donors to understand that it is in the interests of longer term development to invest in community-based disaster preparedness programmes as well as to fund humanitarian operations.”
In her presentation during the workshop, Ms. Leclerc reiterated the Federation’s position on three main issues. First, that involving individuals and families in designing risk reduction measures in their communities can help ensure the sustainability and the appropriateness of the programmes. Second, that civil society, and in particular Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, have a crucial and complementary role to play in working with decision-makers in their respective countries, as official auxiliaries of their government, in national emergency planning. And third, that the Federation’s project of identifying and advocating for the harmonization and the improvement of international disaster response laws, rules and principles (IDRL), remained a priority.
An example of how the Federation is driving the concept of safer and resilient communities is the regional disaster preparedness programme implemented in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. After the initial emergency phase, risk reduction measures were included in the appeal and the implementation of the rehabilitation phase, in order to mitigate the impact of recurrent natural disasters, on the most fragile groups and the poor.
These include, for example, doing vulnerability and capacity assessments at community level, organizing awareness-raising programmes which focus on the main vulnerabilities addressed in these assessments, (such as widespread information campaigns on what to do in case of earthquakes, or evacuation procedures, vocational training or psychological support), training Red Crescent volunteers and staff in social mobilization techniques, as well as reinforcing contingency planning through strong advocacy and increased collaboration with local authorities.
“It is vital that we invest in communities. Ultimately realising development goals at the local level will provide the best protection from hazards,” says Antony Spalton, Senior Officer in the International Federation’s Disaster Policy and Preparedness department. “Moreover, finding more partners to exchange good practices, ideas and experience – in the same region, will make us stronger.”
The workshop was the first in a series of events in the Middle East/North Africa, designed to promote an integrated approach to risk reduction in a region which is particularly prone to disasters, floods and earthquakes. Attendees included representatives from governments, UN agencies, the World Bank, Oxfam, the ProVention Consortium and the International Federation. Participants considered many issues, among them, launching a long-term regional partnership on risk reduction issues, strengthening cross-country partnerships between governments and relevant organizations and developing a shared regional body of knowledge on these issues.