Arab states are often confronted with natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, and floods that cause severe damages and affect a great number of victims. These phenomena have highlighted the increasing vulnerability of cities in the Middle East and Northern Africa. To address this issue, representatives of Arab states and development agencies are gathering in Aqaba, Jordan, for the first regional conference on disaster and risk reduction in the Arab region. SDC is co-organizing this event together with Jordanian authorities and United Nations (UN) partners.
Disaster often occurs when natural hazards hit densely populated places with low capacities and weak infrastructures. These elements are often found in Arab cities, which represent a serious threat to the safety of their inhabitants. During the past three decades, more than 37 million people in the region were affected by natural disasters with substantial financial losses. This figure prompted many Arab states to adopt the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA): a UN-endorsed global plan to implement disaster and risk reduction (DRR) measures worldwide.
The first Arab Regional Conference on Disaster and Risk Reduction in Aqaba reveals the strategies and actions taken so far by the 22 Arab countries that adhere to the HFA. Besides bringing together national ministers and other senior government officials, the conference also assembles mayors of Arab cities, civil society representatives, international agencies, and UN officials. SDC has been working hard for the last few years to unite Arab countries around the DRR issue.
The conference inaugurated a discussion forum that will encourage exchange among countries and partners and provide a platform where Arab politicians, policy makers, scholars, and others experts to periodically discuss progress and challenges facing the region on this theme. Moreover, the conference led to an Arab declaration on DRR in cities. The conference results will be presented at the Global Platform for Disaster and Risk Reduction that will meet in Geneva from 19-23 May 2013.
Disaster risk reduction: a prority for SDC Disaster and risk reduction is a priority theme for SDC. During the conference’s opening session, the Swiss Ambassador in Jordan, Michael Winzap, recalled Switzerland’s experiences in the DRR field and emphasized that “preparedness and risk reduction is less costly than dealing with the results of the catastrophe.“ He also mentioned Switzerland’s willingness to share its experiences and know-how with Arab countries.
SDC has been very active in the DRR field in the Arab region. In Aqaba itself it has worked on a project to enhance the city’s preparedness against catastrophes. Together with the UN Development Program and in response to the request from Aqaba public authorities, the project includes an earthquake risk assessment, elaboration of a master plan on risk management for the city, training of 2,000 government officials, and upgrading critical urban infrastructures such as schools and hospitals. SDC will continue to support implementation of similar projects throughout the region.