22 May 2013
Press Release
IHA/1320

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Science and Technology Should Contribute More

 

to Reducing Disaster Risk, Say Experts

 


GENEVA, 22 May (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) ‑ Experts in disaster risk reduction today urged that science and technology be applied more effectively to disaster management policy and practice.


Their discussions, organized by the UNISDR Scientific and Technical Advisory Group, were part of the fourth session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, which is meeting here this week to build consensus ahead of a 2015 world conference.


Despite advances in the natural and social sciences, natural hazards have continued to increase, the experts said.  The number of lives lost in disasters has tripled in the past 30 years, but science can act as a bridge between the private sector, Governments, the media and society as a whole in the search for solutions.


“Risks and opportunities are the same.  And there is no development without risks,” said Walter J. Amman, CEO of the Global Risk Forum Davos.  Disaster risk reduction meant disaster management ‑ dealing not only with actual risks but also with preventing potential ones.  A paradigm shift called for moving from a risk-based to a proactive approach, in which science had valuable insights to provide.


Greater priority should be given to sharing and disseminating scientific information and finding ways to mainstream science into policies, regulations and implementation plans for reducing disaster risk, the experts stressed.  Science should also play a greater role in education and media campaigns, not in a top-down fashion but through dialogue and community outreach.


Experts presented case studies on how science could be used for disaster risk reduction based on assessment data, best practices and management and monitoring models.  In Indonesia, for example, where tsunamis were the most frequent hazard, the Government was tackling the problem head-on by investing in prevention, and building local-level resilience with community mapping and simulations.


“Science can be useful, usable, and used in disaster risk reduction,” said Takashi Onishi, President of the Japanese Science Council.  He explained that different areas of the country were affected differently by natural hazards, depending on their levels of vulnerability and exposure.  Simulations, early warning systems and seawalls were in place, but more efforts were needed to make the scientific applications a real part of daily life.


Virginia Murray of the United Kingdom Public Health Office, observing that climate change was contributing to the severity and frequency of disasters, suggested how effective planning ‑ such as air conditioning and food stocks could help mitigate the impact of such increasing phenomena as heat waves and drought, particularly on the most vulnerable.  Tailor-made approaches were needed to manage disaster risk now and improve risk reduction in the future, when hazard forecasting would become even more important.


In a video message broadcast during the meeting, Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan of Jordan described how cities in the Arab region had become much more vulnerable to disasters as a result of population explosions and poor land use planning.  The failure to enforce construction codes, a sharp rise in urban poverty, and the growing impact of climate change were other key factors.  Science could play a vital role in preventing natural hazards and should set the agenda for disaster preparedness.


Other speakers this afternoon said that technology was often underestimated in disaster risk reduction and suggested that a technology transfer mechanism could help policymakers.  Social media, networking and texting could also be useful.


The experts concluded that there should be a regular and strengthened dialogue between scientific communities and political leaders; that more use should be made of science and technology to inform policy and enable action; and that science should be better integrated into the post-2015 framework for reducing disaster risk.  That framework was one of the main topics of discussion at the week’s meeting, which was helping to lay the groundwork for a 2015 world conference on disaster risk reduction.


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For information media • not an official record