Published on Eurasian Perspectives

Risk in Vienna City Hall

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ImageThe Vienna City Hall (Rathaus) is one of the landmarks of the Austrian Capital. Visitors are amazed by its Gothic architecture and magnificent interiors - which are famous for hosting lavish events and balls. However, perhaps in direct contrast to these types of events, the Wappensaal of the Rathaus hosted the first ever Understanding Risk Austria event.

Where in the 18 th century these halls hosted the Viennese bourgeoisie, in January these halls now received disaster risk management professionals, decision makers, policy makers, technical institutions, and representatives from the private sector, NGOs and academic institutions from around Austria to discuss disaster risk management issues in the country.

The event, organized in partnership between the World Bank and the Government of Austria, was held on January 20-21, 2016 and saw roughly 300 participants present innovative advancements in the field, build their networks, and collaborate to help build resiliency to disasters when and where they strike.
Understanding Risk (UR) is an open global community of experts and practitioners of Disaster Risk Management (DRM). This is an initiative of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), part of the World Bank Group.

The Global DRM Community gathers every two years at a UR Forum, a five day event providing a place for showcasing emerging best practices, forming nontraditional partnerships, learning about the field, and advancing innovation to promote disaster resilience. 
These conferences have been hosted in multiple locations since 2010. As different countries host the event, they are able to tailor each agenda, allowing participants to present and discuss issues most relevant to them.
Austria is no stranger to risk. The country is exposed to several natural hazards - such as predominant floods, avalanches and landslides.

As an active contributor to GFDRR for the last four years, Austria has recognized that natural hazards are an important issue to consider when thinking about development. Disasters do not differentiate between developed and developing countries. Therefore Austria holds a long tradition of DRM best practices and frequently shares its expertise, knowledge and experience in this field globally.

The Austrian authorities have been exemplary in reducing these risks and responding efficiently to disasters over the last several years. For example, Austria’s most recent natural hazard was the 2013 floods, where economic losses totaled almost €3 billion euros compared to the previous disaster in 2002, costing €9 billion euros.  This reduction can be attributed to the flood risk management programs implemented in the country after 2002.
The roof of St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, Austria. Source:  Wikimedia

I think the builders of the St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna must have been cognizant of the country’s exposure when building this impressive site. In the photo above, the pattern of the roof tiles resembles earthquake waves, the snowy mountains, and the rivers around cities. Maybe, when you live in a country that understands its risks so well, you never stop to don’t put much thought into the efforts that national, regional, and local governments do to reduce this risk. Austria’s knowledge and experience in dealing with disaster reduction is impressive, and I hope that with initiatives like the Understanding Risk Forum, this can be shared even more widely.

In addition to forming new partnerships and exchanging innovative ideas within the Austrian DRM community, one of the most rewarding outcomes of this forum was the fact that Austria even held this event to begin with – a recognition by an important donor of the benefits of the UR community at the global level.

This demonstration of support for GFDRR and the Understanding Risk brand was an important step in further integrating the rich experience of DRM that Austria offers the global UR community.

I look forward to seeing what comes out of the next conference!

For more information on the proceedings and presentations at the event, please click here or visit the Understanding Risk site
Participants at the  Understanding Risk Austria event, held in January 2016.


Joaquin Toro

Lead Disaster Risk Management Specialist, World Bank

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