We are ready for any disaster 

BAHRAIN has stepped up its defences against natural disasters, to combat the increasing risk worldwide, it declared yesterday.

It is capable of facing any form of disaster, said Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa yesterday.

Bahrain was among the first Arab states to submit a disaster reduction strategy report to the United Nations Secretariat, he revealed.

Shaikh Khalid was speaking at the global launch of the UN Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction at the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa yesterday.

The launch was held under the patronage of and attended by Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.

He said the report dealt in detail with the progress achieved by UN members in the implementation of policies aimed at reducing disaster risks.

"The report indicates that between 1975 and 2008, around 9,000 disasters occurred, mostly in developing countries, in which around 2.3 million people lost their lives," he added.

"The disasters included earthquakes, floods, wildfires, waves of drought and desertification, storms, pandemics, global warming, the consequences of rising sea levels and others.

"In such disasters, lives are lost, livelihoods are turned upside down and the global economy and development efforts harmed."

Bahrain has committed itself to confronting these disasters, said Shaikh Khalid.

"A National Commission for Disaster Management was established in May 2006 with a mandate including assessment of the general situation of public safety in the kingdom and proposing action plans and programmes to respond to natural disasters and mitigate their risks," he said.

Bahrain has made available advanced technological tools designed to collect information and data relating to the climate, said Shaikh Khalid, who earlier referred to a UN report which said Bahrain was the fifth most exposed country in the world to the hazard of rising sea levels.

"We have integrated the climate data into our economic development programmes, notably in the fields of agriculture, industry, health and environment," he said.

Shaikh Khalid said Bahrain had been one of the leading Arab countries in terms of human development for many years.

"Countries with high rates of human development and good governance are in better shape to face any form of disaster."

This is the first time a major UN report has been launched in the Middle East and North Africa region. Bahrain, as a responsible nation, is proud to host this event, said Shaikh Khalid.

Last year, Bahrain contributed $1 million (BD378,000) in support of the report, which was co-ordinated by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Secretariat (UNISDR).

"This is part of our commitment to international community and because of our belief in such a key report aimed to focus global media and political attention on the problem of disaster risk," said Shaikh Khalid.

GCC Secretary-General Abdulrahman Al Attiyah thanked Bahrain for its initiative in establishing a Gulf Centre for Disaster Management.

The centre will be located in Kuwait and will be supported by international agencies, he added.

Mr Al Attiyah said the centre would be equipped with cutting-edge technology to forecast climate change and certain natural disasters.

UN Goodwill Ambassador for the World Food Programme Princess Haya bint Al Hussein said it was a moral and human obligation to act before disaster strikes.

"Women, children, youth, the disabled and the elderly are the most vulnerable to disaster risks," she said.

"But they should not be seen as passive victims of disaster, rather as a potential resource base and as agents for change.

"Getting political leaders to focus on disaster prevention strategies is tough. Politically, it is hard to convince people in straightened circumstances of the wisdom of investing their tax money in preparing for an emergency that may never happen.

"Yet, that is precisely what the UN must do and I am delighted that the GCC is showing the way, with the announcement of a risk management centre to be established in Kuwait."

Bahrain's contribution reflects its willingness to undertake a leading role in disaster reduction globally, said UN resident co-ordinator and UNDP resident representative Sayed Aqa.

The report gives new evidence of where, why and how the risk of disaster is increasing globally, based on detailed data gathered over the last 30 years, said Mr Aqa.

"The report identifies disaster risk, analyses its causes, shows that these causes can be addressed and recommends the means to do so," he added. "It presents a 20-point plan to reduce disaster risk to guide and inform national and international policy."

The global launch will now be followed by regional and national launches on the findings and recommendations of the report to key ISDR partners around the world.

The second session of the ISDR Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction is due to be held from June 16 to 19, in Geneva.


Key points in fighting climate change

THE report has come out with a 20-point plan to reduce risk and accelerate efforts to avoid dangerous climate change.

* Agree measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and policies for sustainable carbon budgeting.

* Increase the economic resilience of small and vulnerable economies

* Co-ordinate policies on trade and productive sector development with policies in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, in order to strengthen economic resilience.

* Promote the development of 'catastrophe pools', which poorer countries could dip into for financial or other aid

* Adopt overarching national development policy frameworks at the highest level, backed by the necessary political authority and resources, focusing on the underlying drivers of disaster risk.

* Build the capacities of urban and local governments to integrate disaster risk reduction considerations into a broader strategy to ensure the supply of safe land, secure tenure, infrastructure and services, and adequate disaster resistant housing for the urban poor.

* Invest in natural resource management, infrastructure development, livelihood generation and social protection to reduce vulnerability and strengthen the resilience of rural livelihoods.

* Protect and enhance ecosystem services through mechanisms such as protected area legislation, payment for ecosystem services and integrated planning.

* Shift the emphasis of social protection from an exclusive focus on response to include pre-disaster mechanisms and more effective targeting of the most vulnerable groups.

* Promote a culture of planning and implementation of disaster risk reduction that builds on government-civil society partnerships

* Ensure that responsibility for disaster risk reduction is vested in the highest level of political authority and is explicitly incorporated into national development plans and budgets.

* Harmonise and where possible integrate the governance arrangements for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

* Promote greater synergy in hazard monitoring and risk identification

* Subject all public investment to a cost-benefit analysis to enhance its sustainability and cost-effectiveness, and contribute significantly to the reduction of disaster risk.

* Encourage national control and audit offices to undertake periodic reviews of the implementation of disaster risk reduction policy in order to achieve improvements in accountability, enforcement and control.

*Strengthen the linkages between organisations that generate warnings and those responsible for disaster preparedness and response

* Support the development of insurance markets so that a larger proportion of at-risk households can have access to risk transfer mechanisms, complemented by other financial tools such as microfinance and contingency financing.

* Increase the resources available for climate change adaptation in risk-prone developing countries.

* Use increased public spending in the context of economic stimulus packages, to invest in risk-reducing infrastructure and other measures that address the underlying risk drivers.

* Ensure that additional investments are made to factor disaster risk reduction considerations into all new development.

* Strengthen the capacities of disaster-prone countries to develop the policy and governance frameworks necessary to organise and manage all the above.

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