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Reducing risk from natural disasters takes partnerships, teamwork

Zoe Elena Trohanis's picture

Image credit: simonpocock at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
If you want to know what movies are being shown on flights across the Pacific, ask me or my World Bank colleagues in the East Asia and Pacific region's Disaster Risk Management team. We have been passing one another by plane for the past month and a half. Responsible for coordinating disaster risk management efforts and activities for the region, we are a busy group, no doubt about it.

I have been in China for the past few weeks supporting the country team to appraise a package of support to China for recovery efforts following the May 12, 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. One colleague participated in the recent Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery Consultative Group meetings in Copenhagen, Denmark and is now in Jakarta, Indonesia working with field staff, the country’s government, and partners on mainstreaming risk reduction into development programs. Another colleague of mine just returned from the Philippines and Vietnam, where she was stranded by flooding in Hanoi. In fact, she had to wade through knee-deep water when leaving a meeting at the Ministry of Finance. Of course, this represents just part of the team, since we work with a broader network of staff based in country offices who manage country-level programs and projects.

We don't try to do everything ourselves. We rely extensively on our partners for support and coordination across different aspects of disaster risk reduction. Our partners include organizations like UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to name a couple. When you work in a field with so many players, it's important to leverage the comparative advantages of other organizations and institutions vis-à-vis your own. It also helps to avoid overlapping of efforts, which is especially important as funding for some programs is shrinking due to ripple effects of the global financial crisis.

One important forum coming up in December pays special attention to the importance of partnerships. The Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from Dec. 1-4, 2008. This event will bring high level government officials together from across the region to share experiences about how they have really reduced disaster risks at the national and local levels -- basically talking about what worked, what didn't, and why. The focus is on building a multi-stakeholder partnership for disaster risk reduction in the Asia and Pacific Region.

It is my hope that this event will bring busy policymakers together to learn from one another's experiences and to influence policies and programs in their own countries that ultimately will lead to reduced vulnerability of those at risk. I also hope that attention is paid to the poorest people, those whose livelihoods are on the line every time it rains hard enough to overpower the local drainage system.

It's much easier for my colleague to make her way through knee-deep water after attending a meeting in a flooded part of a city, but who will drain the water that has destroyed the crops, roads and homes of those who barely have enough resources to make it through the next week? The Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction represents the hopes and aspirations of many people, and I am proud to participate in efforts that aim to alleviate the suffering many millions must endure due to the impacts of natural disasters.