Konnichiwa. The UN’s 3rd World Disaster Risk Reduction Conference is on in Sendai, Japan. And I’m here. And it’s big. No huge. Estimated 30,000 people here. This is nothing like I have experienced, sitting in audiences with Ministers, royalty heads of state, Ambassadors, presenting. It’s so high level, it’s nose bleeding stuff.
The day started out in an amusing way, I was waved through by the security people to the front entrance (i can cut an imposing figure in a suit), and just at that time, the cavalcade with the Secretary General of the UN, Bam Ki Moon arrived. I was swept up in it and very nearly was part of the entourage entering the building under the glare of media etc. Except that the eagle eyed media spied my badge that said “Other” and told me I had to go around the back.
Much of it is very formal, statements of intent and support, but there have been great snippets in the sessions. Apart from the opening ceremony, I attended a session on Technological Disasters, one called uniting nations, and one on school safety.
One of the interesting aspects of the technological disasters session, was the fact that it was here. As the moderator said, that with the new framework, technological disasters are for the first time elevated to the same level as so called natural disasters. This is a good move, as we have focussed so much on the severe weather and geotechnical events, that we have forgotten what a good industrial accident will do (think Bhopal), nuclear accident (think Chernobyl), or terrorist event (think 9/11).
One of the sobering thoughts was that the Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians are still dealing with Chernobyl, nearly thirty years on. They are talking about community development approaches, and still the need to deal with people psycho-social issues. The challenge of technological disasters is the fear, the fear of the unknown (which is what the people of Morwell are facing with the fall out from the Coalmine fire), and how to address that. Something that was also enlightening was the Japanese minister for nuclear safety saying that the myth of nuclear power being safe has gone. Disasters happen, and the consequences are catastrophic. This from the government that didn’t acknowledge publicly it had a problem, all the while planning for the evacuation of Tokyo. One of the great things I love about Japan, is that while there is this perception that it is very formal and rigid, there is a subculture. A guy from the Japanese Coalition for Civil Society was able to passionately draw attention to their 10 lessons from Fukashima Booklet. It is a powerful lesson in what happens when nuclear power goes wrong.
The next session I was at was Uniting nations, people and actions for resilience, chaired by Bam Ki Moon (this was the session where we were two rows from the stage, yep ok, policy wonk nerdy stuff). This was an surprisingly refreshing session, with heads or deputy heads of the major UN agencies, speaking quite bluntly about the challenges ahead of us. The head of the WMO, Michele Jermone, talking excitedly about the advances in prediction of severe weather, but cautioning about too much noise, access to too much information diluting the message. Helen Clark talking about 80% of the UNDP programs having a disaster risk reduction component, we can’t stand by and see all that is achieved in development be washed or blown away because we didn’t consider the threat of disasters.
The last session of the day focussed on Safer Schools. I did reflect, with Kevin Ronan from Central Queensland University, about how grey haired the panel was, and there was not a school child in sight. Probably the most sobering and poignant part of the session was the Nigerian Minister for Education talking about safe schools in the context of Boko Haram’s kidnapping of the school girls. School safety at it’s most base and rawest.
At the end of the day, it was tiring, but I did have a smile when passing by me, a young woman said “excuse me” and I said, “no worries” and she looked at me, and I said yep, from Australia. We started talking, and she was a young SES volunteer from Queensland who was studying Emergency Management and was just over the moon to be here. I thought I’m not the only one who gets a kick out of this stuff.
The challenge will be to connect the sky with the dirt. I’ll be drawing upon him on the great Canadian Bluesman, Harry Manx to help out.