UN disaster reduction chief hails ‘major milestone’ in earthquake risk assessment
21 January 2015 The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) has welcomed the launch of a new web-based platform that will provide global access to critical information on earthquakes and enable ‘cutting-edge’ risk assessment aimed at limiting the hazard of these potentially devastating natural events.
The platform – known as OpenQuake – is a ‘major milestone’ for the international community of earthquake hazard and risk experts, according to Margareta Wahlström, the head of UNISDR, who hailed the unveiling in a press release today while emphasizing that the deep understanding of risk remained the basis of any disaster risk reduction (DRR) policy and action.
“Loss of life and economic loss from earthquakes can only be mitigated or prevented through DRR efforts that include urban planning, improved regulation through building codes and compliance with those codes,” said Ms. Wahlström.
“This requires sound technical information to support the financial investments and governance required to reduce risk in the long term.”
Seismic risk will be an important feature of the upcoming Third World Conference on DRR scheduled to take place from 14-18 March in Sendai, Japan.
The Conference will seek to adopt a new framework for disaster risk reduction, updating the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action – the world’s first comprehensive blueprint for disaster risk reduction.
In the UNISDR press release, Ms. Wahlström appealed for more ‘multi-hazard, multi-sectoral’ risk information which should include tools for measuring ‘socio-economic vulnerability as an underlying risk driver’ – an issue she suggested should become a standard part of all risk assessments.
In addition, she urged the diffusion of tools to further assess exposure, hazard, building vulnerability, community resilience and assistance in developing the capacity of member countries and other stakeholders.
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Remembrance vital to disaster management, senior UN official tells Kobe earthquake memorial
18 January 2015 Twenty years after 6,434 lost their lives in the Kobe earthquake, the Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Margareta Wahlström, took part yesterday in the official commemoration of the disaster in Japan.
“It is important to remember distant events because a short memory is the enemy of disaster management,” Ms Wahlström said as she congratulated the Japanese people and government for their steadfast remembrance of those who died during an earlier event.
The Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake struck at 5.46 am local time on 17 January 1995 and in 20 years since, earthquakes have killed more people than any other natural hazard, with almost half of the two million deaths from major reported disasters occurring in earthquakes.
“Five of the most deadly earthquakes of the last 100 years have occurred in the last ten years,” said Ms Wahlström, describing how the 2010 Haiti earthquake destroyed the capital, Port-au-Prince, how the Indian Ocean tsunami affected 14 countries, while the 2008 Szechuan earthquake in China and the 2005 Muzaffarabad earthquake in Pakistan, took over 80,000 lives each.
“These four earthquakes alone had a combined death toll of some 500,000, injured many more and disrupted the lives of millions,” she said. “In addition, the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 taught us a lesson about seismic risk in the nuclear age. These five catastrophic events over a short period of time convey a strong message about risk and exposure in the 21st century driven by population growth and urbanization. Proper land use and building codes are key to reducing risk.”
During her trip, Ms. Wahlström will be meeting with Japanese officials to discuss the agenda and arrangements for the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction which will take place in Sendai, Japan, from 14-18 March.
Seismic risk will be an important feature of the Conference which will adopt a new framework for disaster risk reduction, updating the Hyogo Framework for Action, adopted in January 2005 in Kobe, which provided the world’s first comprehensive blueprint for disaster risk reduction.
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UN agency stresses need for genetic diversity in agriculture to combat climate change
19 January 2015 Knowledge of agricultural genetic resources needs to grow more quickly because of the critical role they have to play in feeding the world as climate change advances faster than expected, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
As the FAO’s Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture starts its biennial meeting today, the Organization has sounded a warning that much more must be done to study, preserve and use the biological diversity that underpins world food production.
“In a warmer world with harsher, more variable weather, plants and animals raised for food will need to have the biological capacity to adapt more quickly than ever before,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo. “Preventing further losses of agricultural genetic resources and diverting more attention to studying them and their potential will boost humankind’s ability to adapt to climate change.”
During its meeting, the Commission will consider adopting guidelines for integrating genetic resources into climate change adaptation plans that the FAO has developed in line with guidance from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The draft guidelines argue for an increased and explicit use of genetic resources as a part of overall adaptation measures needed to assure food security – in recognition of the critical role that genetic diversity must play there – and contain a range of recommendations aimed at helping countries implement policies and strategies for studying, preserving, and utilizing genetic resources to adapt to climate change.
The aim is to support Governments’ use of genetic resources – ranging from seed varieties of major staple crops to the millions of microbes living in the soil, an area where expertise is relatively thin – in their national plans for coping with climate change. Micro-organisms are often decried as agents of disease in crops and livestock but actually perform myriad functions and protect their hosts from myriad threats.
“We need to strengthen the role of genetic resources and help farmers, fishers and foresters cope with climate change,” says Linda Collette, Secretary of the Commission and lead editor of a book released by the FAO on the subject of genetic resources.
The book, Coping with climate change: the roles of genetic resources for food and agriculture, says it is vital for the world to build its knowledge of genetic resources for food and agriculture and their characteristics such as resistance to drought or disease. Documentation of locally adapted varieties and breeds of crops and livestock are poorly documented and may be lost before their potential roles in climate change adaptation are recognised.
“Time is not on our side” it argues. “In the coming decades, millions of people whose livelihoods and food security depend on farming, aquaculture, fishing, forestry and livestock keeping are likely to face unprecedented climatic conditions.”
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Ban appoints climate change official ahead of December UN climate conference
16 January 2015 United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Janos Pasztor of Hungary as the first-ever UN Assistant Secretary-General on Climate Change, the Organization’s Spokesperson’s office announced today.
According to a press release, Mr. Pasztor will serve as the Senior Adviser of the Secretary-General on climate change until the critical 21st UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) scheduled to be held in Paris in December.
“Mr. Pasztor’s tenure will focus on supporting efforts towards a universal climate agreement in 2015 and mobilising global climate action on the ground, including through a coherent United Nations System-wide action,” the press release explained.
A former Acting Executive Director at World Wildlife Fund International, Mr. Pasztor also boasts a rich experience within the UN system, having served as the Executive Secretary of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability from 2011 to 2012 and as the Director of the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team from 2008 to 2010. From 1993 to 2006, Mr. Pasztor also held various senior positions in the UNFCCC.
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In India, UN chief commends country’s leadership on climate change
13 January 2015 United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today before departing India met with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to discuss India’s leading role in climate change reform.
Speaking to reporters after planting a tree at the Ministry of the Environment, Mr. Ban said that he is counting India’s continuing leadership role in the global effort to address climate change. He welcomed India’s use of innovative technologies, such as the Canal Top Solar Power Plant, which he inaugurated this past Sunday on a visit to Gujarat.
“Nature does not wait for us. Nature does not negotiate with us,” he said, emphasizing that it is up to people to make sure that the world is environmentally sustainable.
Mr. Ban commended the leadership roles of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Environment Minister Javadekar and said he counted on the country’s ongoing efforts to tackle climate change – a “defining issue of our times.”
Recalling his visit to Gujarat, while attending the Vibrant Gujarat Summit meeting, Mr. Ban underlined the importance of using innovative technologies. He also welcomed the Government’s ‘100 Smart Cities’ initiative.
Calling it a moral and political responsibility, the Secretary-General said that young people today are looking to leaders to make the future sustainable for all.
“I hope many countries in the world will emulate such leadership. At the same time I expect, as one of the most critically important Member States of the UN and one of the fastest growing economies, India should lead this campaign to address climate change so that we will be able to have a universal and meaningful climate change agreement in Paris in December.”
The Secretary-General and President Mukherjee also discussed Security Council reform, sustainable development as well as terrorism.
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Cities in Central Asia, Caucasus sign up to UN campaign to become more resilient
12 January 2015 Eight cities in Central Asia and the Caucasus, including capitals Tbilisi and Bishkek, have signed on to strengthen community resilience by integrating disaster risk reduction into their national and local policy, representing a big boost for the United Nations initiative which already has over 2,400 participants worldwide.
The global campaign, Making Cities Resilient: My City is Getting Ready!, launched in 2010 for a period of five years until 2015, is promoted by the Geneva-based UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
“The campaign helps participants to become better organized and to identify key priorities for action for risk reduction. They can also benefit from the shared experience of other participants facing similar challenges. It is a very dynamic and interactive campaign,” said Madhavi Malalgoda Ariyabandu, UNISDR regional coordinator.
UNISDR’s initiative, now in partnership with the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), is titled “Strengthened Disaster Risk Reduction in Central Asia and the Caucasus through greater fostering of the Hyogo Framework for Action priorities.”
The eight cities to sign up are Noyemberyan and Berd in Armenia; Tbilisi and Gori in Georgia; Oskemen and Ridder in Kazakhstan; and Bishkek and Kara-Kol in Kyrgyzstan.
“These cities and towns are committing to a ten-point checklist of actions which help them to become resilient to disasters and to manage their growth in a sustainable way,” said Ms. Ariyabandu.
The worldwide campaign is based on 10 essentials for developing local resilience, which in turn build on the five priorities for action of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), endorsed by UN Member States for the period 2005-2015.
Central Asia and the Caucasus are exposed to a range of natural and technological hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, mud and debris flows, avalanches, floods, drought and extreme temperatures inflicting serious human and economic losses. Risks and exposure to risk are exacerbated by the rapid growth of urban population and climate change.
Over the 30-year period from 1980, 14 million people were affected by 131 major disaster events with economic losses of $3.8 billion. The destructive earthquake in Spitak, Armenia in 1988 and the extreme cold spell across Central Asia in 2008, prove the importance of strengthening communities.
To address these challenges, the campaign will aim to build local capacity to assess risks of natural hazards, update action plans which are disaster risk inclusive, increase accessibility of international expertise in disaster risk reduction, and foster exchange of experiences between municipalities and local governments.
A post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction is expected to be approved at a world conference, in March 2015, in Sendai, Japan, emphasizing the need to continue to work to strengthen community resilience, particularly in municipalities with less than 10,000 inhabitants.
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