By Berta Acero
NABLUS, PALESTINE, 28 February 2013 - The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, today welcomed Nablus' commitment to become the first Palestinian city to join UNISDR's Making Cities Resilient Campaign.
Situated around 60 kilometers north of Jerusalem and with a population of more than 150,000, Nablus has experienced more than 20 major earthquakes in the last 1,000 years, with the last devastating quake occurring in 1927.
In his meeting with Ms Wahlström, the Mayor of Nablus, Ghassan Al Shakaa, highlighted the city's achievements to reduce disaster risks and confirmed his commitment to take the necessary steps to join the Making Cities Resilient campaign "as soon as possible".
Mr. Al Shakaa emphasized as well the value of engaging youth in local action and in municipal and community plans. Launched in 2010, UNISDR's Making Cities Resilient Campaign addresses issues of local governance and urban risk and invites local governments to commit to a list of 10 Essentials aimed at reducing disaster risks in their communities. Currently the campaign has enlisted over 1,300 local governments around the world including 270 from the Arab region.
On her visit to Palestine this week, Ms. Wahlström placed great emphasis on the role of local government in reducing vulnerabilities, improving coordination for risk reduction and enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and recovery. In that regard, Ms Wahlström met with the Governor of Jericho and the Jordan Valley, Majed Alfeyani, the Mayor of Jericho, Mohammed Jalayta, and the Governor of Ramallah and Al Bierah, Dr. Laila Ghannam.
Ms. Wahlström, visited An-Najah National University, the largest university in Palestine and home to more than 20,000 students, which also houses the Urban Planning and Disaster Risk Reduction Center (UPDRR), the only specialized research center in the field of natural risk reduction and disaster management in Palestine.
The President of the University, Dr Rami Hamdallah, briefed the UNISDR Chief about the active role of its UPDRR Center with units focusing on applied research in the fields of earth sciences, earthquakes engineering and regional and urban planning. He also announced the launch of a disaster risk mitigation programme in Palestine. The project, supported by the European Centre for Training and Research in Earthquake Engineering (EUCENTRE) and the Institute for Advanced Study of Pavia (IUSS) in Italy, will support An-Najah University to become a globally competitive and experienced research Centre in the field of seismic risk mitigation and disaster management.
"We are looking forward to strengthening our cooperation with UNISDR in the future. When we look at the global statistics we can see that the annual number of recorded disasters triggered by natural hazards has doubled over the past two decades", Dr. Hamdallah stated.
Addressing the audience of 650 people, representing Palestinian governorates, municipalities, Ministries, civil society, private sector, faculty, researchers and students, Ms Wahlström praised the efforts made by the University in disaster risk reduction studies and research.
"The range of expertise and knowledge existing in An-Najah National University allows it to contribute to the development of a comprehensive risk assessment nationally and locally as well as through its outreach work to contribute to communities'' self-reliance and resilience", said the UNISDR chief.
In close cooperation with UNISDR, An-Najah National University through its UPDRR Center headed by Dr. Jalal N. Dabeek, "has been spreading awareness and developing guidance that advocates for laws that reduce the risk of earthquakes and their effects. Making cities resilient to disasters is a major objective that the center pursues to safeguard the lives and properties of Palestinian communities ", said Dr. Dabeek.
Ms Wahlström met earlier with Prime Minister, Dr. Salam Fayad, and with the Minister of Interior, Dr Said Abu-Ali; Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Riyad Al Malky; Minister for Education, Ms Lamees Al-Alami; Minister for Health, Dr. Hany Abdeen; Minister for Agriculture, Dr Waleed Assaf; Minister for Local Government, Dr Khaled Al Wasmy; Minister for Planning and International Cooperation, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Ramadan, and the Chairman of Palestinian Water Authority, Dr Shaddad Al Atteely. She also met with the Director General of Civil Defense, Mahmoud Issa, and the Secretary-General of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, Dr Younis Al Khateeb.