Dr. Salvano Briceño, Director of the Secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) answers questions on progress achieved in the four years of implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action, the challenges and the most important expectations towards making progress in disaster reduction worldwide.

1. Four years have passed since the launch of the Hyogo Framework for Action, the ISDR system has succeeded in establishing significant alliances, and steps have been taken to energize a number of processes as much in the political as in the technical sphere: Can you give us a brief appraisal of the process with its achievements, the gaps and the main challenges?

In these four years, strides have been made. Nevertheless, the challenge is still greater, and as a result, there is a lot which remains to be done. Risk reduction is above all about reducing vulnerability of two kinds: current, chronic vulnerabilities such as poverty and ignorance and vulnerabilities for the future. That is to say, new risks which the rapid increase in urban density are creating as well as the impact of climate change, such as the increase in the level and temperature of the sea, and the melting of the glaciers. All these processes need much time to be addressed and overcome and education will need to be a permanent tool for the development of society. In the same way, reduction of risk and vulnerability to natural hazards should be considered as a value, an attitude and ongoing behavioral pattern on the part of each individual, family, community, nation and international body. In short, we have our work cut out for us and this is the main challenge.

2. The goals proposed for 2015 represent a huge challenge. The world is not on track in order to achieve the results sought by the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) of a considerable reduction in losses caused by disasters by 2015. Where do you see the main contribution which the United Nations can make in this process? Where are the ISDR priorities targeted?

The HFA goals are obviously very ambitious. However, substantial reduction in losses as a result of these kinds of disasters (those caused by vulnerability to natural hazards) can be looked at numerically (number of people affected), which we hope to be able to measure to some extent, or it can also be looked at in relation to the progress made by institutional and technical mechanisms to deal with risk. We need to give priority to this objective in the years ahead. This is how in health, we can measure progress by the number of people who become less ill or also by the number of medical and health services which are available, including prevention. The first is a consequence of the second. With more prevention, there are fewer victims. Interest must be placed in making progress in service provision and institutional development to reduce risk. We will then see how many people’s lives have been saved or have a better life because of these services. In 2015 we should be capable of measuring the progress of policies and risk reduction programs at all levels and in this way we will see that we are moving forward more and more rapidly; the initial years were taken up with mobilization, raising awareness and promotion and we are now seeing more specific progress in the development of policies, legislation, organizational capacity, increased resources, etc.

Dr. Salvano Briceño

Dr. Briceño was appointed as the Director of the U.N. Secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) in 2001. His professional trajectory has been focused on the management of environmental programs and sustained development at the United Nations, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the government of Venezuela. Before his appointment at UN/ISDR, Briceño was coordinator at BIOTRADE and the GHG Emissions Trading Initiatives of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development. Dr. Briceño received a doctorate in administrative law from the University of Paris in 1975 and a master in public administration from Harvard University in 1984.

3. Continuing with the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action, this year the second meeting of the Global Platform for Disaster Reduction will be held in Geneva. What are your expectations of this important meeting and specifically regarding the progress which can be achieved when we see that there is still a big gap between the resources needed for disaster reduction —technical, human, institutional and financial— and what is available?

I think that the second session of the Global Platform will facilitate the assessment of progress during the first four years of the HFA. Firstly, we will have the initial global report on disaster risk reduction, which will be presented in Bahrain on 11 May, and later in several other regions. This report will show which are the highest risk zones in the world and will enable the orientation of investment in prevention and mitigation in a more effective and concrete way. We hope that this information will allow us to speed up processes for risk reduction worldwide. Governments will have more precise information about the risk of not investing in risk management. Secondly, we are developing in a complementary way, with the World Bank, an economic study on the cost-benefit relation of disaster risk reduction, which will provide further specifics on possible investments in policies and measures to reduce risk and vulnerability. Thirdly, another study in the framework of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will concentrate on the management of risks of extreme climatic phenomena, using knowledge and disaster risk reduction tools for adaption to climate change. We hope that this study will facilitate orientation of efforts relating to climate change and support and strengthen disaster risk reduction. With all the above, we hope that as of next year (2010, the mid point of the HFA) it will be possible to speed up the implementation of the HFA, including greater investment in resources of all kinds.

4. Nobody denies the impact of climate change now, its many consequences and its clear links with the increase in vulnerability to possible disasters. But at the same time it is also a significant opportunity to place the theme of disaster reduction on the political agendas of many countries. Again, what strategies or practical actions does the ISDR recommend to bring this issue concretely to country level and ensure that countries include adaptation to climate change in their risk reduction plans?

Disaster risk reduction is the first defense against the impact of climate change. Some of the impacts will be new (those mentioned previously, increase in sea level, etc.), but for the most part it will be a question of an increase in the intensity and frequency of phenomena or natural hazards that we are already familiar with (mainly floods, cyclones, drought) and for these we can put into quick action the measures and policies which are already known and which the HFA presents in a summarized form. This is what our participation in the negotiations on climate change is about, during which we have ensured that disaster risk reduction is recognized as an essential instrument for adaptation to climate change, as approved in the United Nations Conference on Climate Change which took place in Bali in 2007 (COP 13) and re-confirmed in the 2008 conference (COP 14) which was held in Poznan, Poland. The challenge is naturally the final negotiation, which is expected in COP 15 in Copenhagen this year. However, there is no doubt that disaster risk reduction will be included as a necessary measure and instrument to deal with climate change.

5. Lastly, we find ourselves at the halfway point in the International Disaster Reduction Campaign 2008-2009 “Hospitals Safe from Disasters.” What recommendations would you make to the readers of this bulletin so that they contribute and participate in their countries in actions which help to increase resilience and security of health facilities in the event of disasters?

If the readers are mainly from the health sector, it is important that they help to raise awareness of the need to include reduction of risk and vulnerability to hazards or natural phenomena as a priority in health policies and programs. There is a lack of understanding of the possibilities which each person and community has to reduce their vulnerability and it is important, even urgent, that all those people who understand the issue, help to raise awareness and disseminate information. Both PAHO and the ISDR have sufficient educational material to explain the issue. To help to promote these materials is a simple task which many can undertake.

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