Three cities win UN-backed award for innovation in disaster risk reduction

12 May 2011 – Cities in the Philippines, Argentina and Canada have won United Nations-backed awards for their efforts to strengthen disaster preparedness, the UN office tasked with assisting countries strengthen disaster risk reduction has announced.

San Francisco in the Philippines, Santa Fe in Argentina and Canada’s District of North Vancouver were declared winners of the UN-Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction at a ceremony held last night on the sidelines of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva.

San Francisco, a small coastal city in the Philippines prone to typhoons, won $25,000, earning the accolade for its innovative use of the “Purok system,” a traditional method of self-organization within villages where members voluntarily contribute money to bank account for to help those in need of emergency funds after a disaster. Mobile telephones and radios are used to disseminate information and risk assessments, with Purok coordinators acting as couriers of information to residents.

One of two cities receiving $12,500 was Santa Fe, an Argentine city frequently hit by floods and recognized for effectively communicating disaster risks to the public. In areas of the city where many people live in informal settlements, authorities have been able to formalize their settlement by giving them land occupancy permits, debt cancellation certificates and sale contracts for their homes. Scores of families in zones not protected by flood embankments have been relocated.

The District of North Vancouver, which experienced a landslide in 2005, also received $12,500. Mayor Richard Walton impressed delegates at the Global Platform with his presentation on the city’s GIS (Geographic Information System) website, where the public can access mapping, census, land, environmental, zoning, buildings and other valuable information that is stored in the district’s GIS. The city’s stated goal is to provide “as much information where possible to our community.”

Mr. Walton told the UN News Centre that the information gathered through the use of the GIS on the land and buildings in the area had enabled engineers to identify 30 properties that needed remedial measures to make them less vulnerable in the event of another landslide or similar disaster.

“We have been able to determine levels of risk, risk tolerance levels, and take mitigation action,” he said.

Other innovations cited were the city of Bhubaneswar in India and Pakistan’s Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA), a Government initiative supported by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), which both received a letter of recommendation. The Coordination Centre for Natural Disaster Prevention in Central America, CEPREDENAC, based in Guatemala, received a letter of merit.

“Each of the finalists have had a history of engaging in disaster risk reduction regardless of whether it was fashionable at the time or not,” said Margareta Wahlström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).

“Remarkably, they continued to engage in it even if funding was scarce, demonstrating their durability and a sense of innovation and commitment about how to make disaster risk reduction work even with limited resources,” she added.

The UN Sasakawa Award for Disaster Reduction is one of three prizes established in 1986 by the founding chairman of the Nippon Foundation, Ryoichi Sasakawa, a Japanese businessman and philanthropist. The others are the UN World Health Organization’s (WHO) Sasakawa Health Prize and the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Sasakawa Environment Prize.


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