Across the river Day 3 3 WCDRR

This morning’s walk took me down a number of new streets. This town is really growing on me. I am building a mental map of it. I think I’m starting to get this thing called the 3WCDRR. So, there is one big room where member states stand up and read out prepared texts about their positions on disaster risk reduction, largely to an empty chamber. It must be disheartening. I guess there is a protocol that stops the Minister from throwing their hands up in the air and saying, it’s all on the website, you can read it there and going off and enjoying the sunshine. Then there is another room where the real negotiators are. Well I think so, it often seems empty when I look in. Maybe they’re all doing backroom deals. Then there is the stuff that I’m entitled to be part of, the working meetings. So we are supposed to be considering certain themes. It feels like a conference, with moderated presentations on the topic. However, the fascinating part is that a) there is no working group, b) different parties will stand up to make interventions (a strange word that the international people love, like actors) which effectively is a catch all statement for questions or statements. Anyway some organisations hijack sessions to make completely unrelated statements. It’s all fascinating. Luckily there is generally some good content there to get into.

The first session I attended was the education for disaster risk reduction session. This was a terrific session, kicked off by the incomparable Kevin Ronan, a Queenslander with a Minnesotan accent who also thinks of himself as a kiwi. He’s also it and bit when it comes to disaster preparedness and children and schools. He spoke about the progress made during the Hyogo Framework for action, about how countries were moving towards getting DRR are into national curricula, how teacher education was improving , there was a 37 fold increase in the number of disaster preparedness sessions being delivered across the world, with kids having positive interactions with both parents and communities. One of the more poignant things that Kevin mentioned was the reduction in childhood fears that these programs brought. Getting caught up in a disaster is in the top ten of childhood fears, and DRR education in schools helped reduce the fears. Conversely, teachers were afraid of running programs because they feared that they may not do a good enough job, and that it may raise the anxiety of the children.

An interesting presentation came from Nikoly Grigoryan from Armenia, he showed a range of animations that the Ministry of Extreme Situations (I want a business card with that on it) developed, called the one who is aware, is protected. The animations are simple and use good iconography which is a constant theme through the materials.

The last speaker of the session was a delightful young woman from Cambodia, Iem Sophouen, who simply said if you give us a chance, we will be agents for change, you just have to tell us want you want us to do.

A session on communities addressing local risks was really up and down. The most impressive speaker was the one on how indigenous knowledge saved the people of a town in Chile from the 2010 Tsunami. The mayor of the town talked about the relationship with the sea that the mapuche people have. A legend in the lore of the people talked about an earthquake caused a serpent Kaika Vila to rise up out of the sea, and as it was about to engulf the people, another serpent Treata vila to come down from the hills to battle the serpent and protect the people. So when an earthquake happens, the people need to run up to the hills to summon Treata Vila. So now it is known that you need to run up to the hills when an earthquake happens. Given that we have the oldest living culture in the world (and for example the Wurundjeri from Melbourne talk about a big fire season every 7 years, and a big water every 20 years), why don’t we discover more.

There were a few tedious presentations, that really didn’t get the theme, it was about local. But one of the interventions (I do find the word funny, I think of someone physically intervening) reminded us all don’t forget the elders, they seem to be forgotten in everything, sure they might have needs, abut they also have capacities, and wisdom.

In the economics of Disaster Risk Reduction session, I thought I might catch up on emails, or sleep (I did have a habit of falling asleep in economics lectures at uni). IT was fascinating, and actually an area I am interested in.

Kyoshi Kodera from JICA talked about needing to make good decisions. He broke down spending disaster management as 12% on preparedness, 65% on response, and 21% on recovery, ie 86% on post impact, and 12% on pre impact. What I could do with a doubling of the 12% Not surprising, DRR was only 0.89% of government spending across the asia pacific region. He again reiterated that DRR is sunk cost, and not an opportunity for investment, because we still do not demonstrate the benefit of it.

Stephane Hallegatte from the World Bank attempted to conceptualise investment in safety, likening it to air safety. He said if we removed all the safety requirements on airlines, the biggest impact would not necessarily be more air crashes, it would be the reduction in passengers, and a business impact, as the risk of an air crash increases, people wouldn’t take the risk of flying. But we do it with disasters. Interesting. It was interesting that the government people were pretty dry, and the technocrats were quite interesting. Elizabeth McNaughton from New Zealand Red Cross asked a pointed question that basically said, all this is all good and well but how can count the social costs, and frame the language so that community members can use it to make their own investment decisions. The reaction was fascinating. It wasn’t dismissed out of hand, the technocrats gave it a red hot go, acknowledging that it was challenging but something they must do. It fired up the panel.

A little bit of break, borrowed an electric bike and I crossed the river to the side where all the side events were happening. These sessions are the real deal, where the grassroots stuff is reported. I can see why Tony jarrett is here on his own time to attend these sessions. The session I went to was called Archiving and Memorialising Disasters International Workshop. It was the best workshop I have attended in a long time. I am not going to write about it here, as I think it deserves its own separate blog post.

Dinner with the Australian Youth in Emergency Management team, a lot of fun

I descended from the clouds and crossed the river with Peter Gabriel’s help

PS Yesterday I had 78 visitors and 248 views, a record!

4 thoughts on “Across the river Day 3 3 WCDRR

  1. I am enjoying reading your posts John…it is giving me a good sense of being there. I am also curious about what made the workshop go so well.

    Keep up your excellent work!

    best regards



  2. Hi John,

    I agree with the comments above – your observations are terrific.

    One thing that jumped out at me is your comment “The last speaker of the session was a delightful young woman from Cambodia, Iem Sophouen, who simply said if you give us a chance, we will be agents for change, you just have to tell us want you want us to do.”

    Children and young people can most definitely be change agents but I also believe that they have lots of great ideas so I think that there’s more to it than “telling” what we want done. There needs to be a two way conversation and I think that’s one of the big challenges.

    Also good to hear that Kevin Ronans presentation went well.



  3. Great reviews of the sessions John. Nice to hear you were impressed with Nikoly Grigoryan. With his and others leadership, Armenia has made great progress in setting up national DRR mechanisms which interlink well with the Red Cross community based work.


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