By Jonathan Fowler
ISTANBUL, Turkey, 24 March 2017 – Hundreds of delegates are heading to Istanbul for Europe’s top disaster risk reduction forum, two months before a global conference takes aim at natural and human-induced hazards.
Currently chaired by Turkey, a leader in the field, the European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction runs from Sunday to Tuesday and is set to draw 500 participants.
They will take stock of efforts to curb risk in a region where the top natural hazards are floods, storms, heatwaves, earthquakes and wildfires. In addition to economic losses, they will focus on the links between disaster risk, climate change and migration – a high-profile topic, given the regional impacts of the Syria crisis.
The need for such an overarching approach was spotlighted in January by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
“Our priority is prevention – prevention of conflict, of the worst effects of natural disasters, and of other man-made threats to the cohesion and well-being of societies,” he said.
Founded in 2009, the European Forum groups countries from across the continent, as well as the Council of Europe, the European Commission and sub-regional bodies like the Council of Baltic Sea States.
The Istanbul meeting’s importance goes beyond the region’s borders.
“The European Forum comes just two months before the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, in Mexico,” noted Mr. Robert Glasser, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.
“This makes it a key opportunity to set the tone not only for this region but also for the rest of the world,” he added.
Mr. Glasser will give a keynote speech during a high-level session on Tuesday, alongside Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Veysi Kaynak, and Mr. Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management.
“The European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction is intended to serve as the forum for exchanging information and knowledge, coordinating efforts throughout the European region and for providing active support for effective action to reduce disasters. Moreover, it is devoted to contemporary issues of importance needed to promote a good political climate for the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction,” said Mr. Kaynak.
The Sendai Framework is a 15-year blueprint adopted by the international community in 2015.
“Disaster risk reduction aims to reduce the damage caused by natural and technological disasters through an ethic of prevention. Disaster risk reduction is the concept and practice of reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyse and reduce the causal factors of disasters. Disaster risk reduction includes disciplines like disaster management, disaster mitigation and disaster preparedness, but is also part of sustainable development. For sustainable development activities, disaster risks also should be reduced,” added Mr. Kaynak.
Turkey took the chair of the European Forum last October, succeeding Finland.
It is a case-study country, having shifted in the aftermath of the 1999 Marmara Earthquake from disaster response to risk reduction, for example by retrofitting schools and hospitals to make them safe havens.
Underscoring the political importance it gives the issue, Turkey’s AFAD national disaster management authority, created in 2009, is part of the prime minister’s office.
European Forum meetings have catalysed efforts to curb risk and build resilience in the region. More than 30 member countries now have a legal framework on disaster risk reduction, compared to five in 2005. And there are over 670 European local governments in UNISDR’s Making Cities Resilient network, a twentyfold rise from 2010.
At its 2015 meeting, the European Forum adopted a Sendai Framework implementation roadmap focussed on climate change, the environment, the private sector, health, and persons with disabilities, all at national and local levels.
Like other developed regions of the world, Europe is particularly susceptible to high disaster bills due to the value of its exposed assets,
Last year’s earthquakes in central Italy claimed 299 lives and caused total 23.53 billion euros in damage. Of that, 541 million euros was direct damage to heritage sites, including the destruction of the Basilica San Benedetto in the town of Norcia. The lingering effects of such disasters also hurt Europe’s economically-important tourism sector.
In Bavaria, southern Germany, floods last May and June affected more than 47,000 people and caused 1 billion euros in damage. The cost was similar in France’s own June floods, which killed 18 people.
The Istanbul meeting is also the first edition of the biennial Open Forum. Past events have only involved officially-mandated experts, but the upcoming session will also include non-governmental organisations, lawmakers, researchers and a host of others working at the interface of disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change adaptation.