The urban challenge – Adapting humanitarian response

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Key Note by Robert Piper,
UN Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator for Nepal
17th January 2012
at the 27 th ALNAP Annual Meeting, Chennai, India

Thank you to ALNAP for the privilege of speaking to you this morning and to join you for the next few days to learn and discuss about a critical issue for the future – that of preparing ourselves better for the multiple disasters in urban environments that we will witness – and some of us possibly experience - over the coming years.

I am not an urban disaster expert. I do live in one of the world’s most vulnerable cities however – Kathmandu. And as the Coordinator of the UN’s work in Nepal in both development and humanitarian fields, I have by now spent quite a lot of time thinking about and working on how to manage the hazards of the Kathmandu valley and how to prepare for the worst. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this question keeps me awake some nights, in fact.

The ALNAP Secretariat has prepared a very useful background paper scoping out the dimensions of the problem, floating some of the key questions that need answering, and pointing to some useful analytical tools, like the STEEP model, to help organizations get their heads around the issues. I won’t attempt to reproduce their paper which I hope most if not all have read, and which in any case, others would be much more fluent than I in reproducing cogently.

Instead, I propose first, to illustrate some of the dimensions of the challenges laid out in the background paper with reference to Kathmandu. Second, I will also flag some key operational challenges to our response and mitigation efforts, that have struck me in the context of the Kathmandu valley. And third, I thought it might be useful to share some of institutional obstacles I see to us responding effectively to this problem, once it has been accurately diagnosed, in Nepal and beyond. In closing, I will share some notes about the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium we have built, which I believe may be part of the solution to organizing ourselves in new ways to address these types of challenges.

My presentation may be depressingly heavy on problems and light on solutions. The idea is that my old friend Dan Lewis from UN-Habitat, will follow me with a more uplifting presentation on what is being done about it! I will nevertheless do my bit to lighten the atmosphere by also sharing some of the emerging good practices in Nepal.