Assessing risks, risk preparedness and saving lives

Floods in Germany, heatwaves in India, droughts in Africa – how can humanity arm itself against the rising number of natural disasters and their effects worldwide? At the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Bali, Indonesia, delegates from the worlds of politics, science, business and civil society are seeking effective solutions to reduce disaster risks. A multi-stakeholder delegation from Switzerland will be present. Regina Gujan, deputy head of the Multilateral Humanitarian Aid Division, is responsible for DRR at the SDC.

A man in Mumbai, India, pushing his bicycle through floodwater..

Disaster risk reduction in Switzerland includes measures taken before, during and after a disaster. Mumbai, India. © Keystone

Disasters related to climate change are increasing worldwide. In 2021 alone, extreme weather events caused over 7,000 deaths and the displacement of more than 1.3 million people. Floods, fires, heatwaves and droughts caused economic damage of around USD 170 billion – 20 billion more than in the previous year. At the same time, the number of deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic was more than 6.2 million, according to the WHO.

Switzerland is active at various levels and in a variety of international bodies in the early detection, prevention and management of natural disasters. From 23 to 28 May 2022, a Swiss delegation with representatives from various federal government departments, civil society, academia and the private sector will take part in the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (GPDRR) in Bali. 

Three questions for Regina Gujan

Portrait photo of Regina Gujan
Regina Gujan, deputy head of the Multilateral Humanitarian Aid Division, is responsible for DRR at the SDC. © R.G.

Ms Gujan, what can Switzerland contribute to the GPDRR in Bali?

Switzerland is a mountainous country, so has always lived with natural hazards. As a nation, we have a corresponding amount of experience and globally recognised expertise in the DRR sector. Switzerland's focus in Bali is primarily on disaster prevention and risk management. We will be actively shaping the processes at different levels, sharing our insights and learning from other participants. We are convinced that DRR pays off financially, socially and ecologically. But for measures to be successful, all relevant stakeholders – including the affected local population – must be involved in the planning process from the outset.

What is the role of DRR in the SDC's work?

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) is a priority in the IC Strategy 2021–24 and a prerequisite for sustainable development. Of course it is also a key focus area of humanitarian aid.

DRR – along with issues around climate change – actually feeds into almost all of our activities. Projects are analysed for possible risk potential and activities are planned in such a way that they contribute to reducing risks. In the DRR sector, the SDC works closely with the Federal Offices for the Environment and Civil Protection, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, MeteoSwiss, as well as with NGOs, the private sector, universities, the National Platform for Natural Hazards and the Steering Committee on Intervention in Natural Hazards. We share our pooled knowledge with our partner countries and bring our influence to bear on international institutions in the DRR sector.

With today's analytical methods, a large number of humanitarian crises are very predictable. Switzerland therefore supports local early warning and financing mechanisms, and promotes targeted protection measures on the ground.

Do you have any concrete examples?

Yes, though prevention measures can of course be quite varied. They range from the construction of earthquake-resistant schools, the mapping of danger zones and land-use planning to the training of local specialists. In India, for example, Swiss specialists work with local institutions to analyse and predict landslides, flash floods and, in particular, climate-related glacial lake outburst floods. For this purpose, early warning systems are currently being set up and developed together with local authorities. In Haiti, in Jacmel, members of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit have helped Haitian specialists to draw up hazard maps for landslides and floods.

Long-term and targeted DRR

No country on Earth is immune to the climate-related increase in natural disasters – regardless of wealth. However, the impacts are much more pronounced in developing countries and can undo decades of development progress. Poor population groups often live on the margins of society in high-risk areas. They lack the resources to avert the negative impacts of natural hazards through concrete protective measures. They also lack insurance or savings to recover from disasters.

Switzerland's international cooperation is based on long-term engagement that focuses on strengthening the institutions, human resources and infrastructure of the country concerned.

But the best prevention is to mitigate climate change. The impacts of climate change are already being felt, however, and time is of the essence: effective DRR is of the utmost importance.

The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (GPDRR)

The GPDRR is the most important international conference in the field of DRR. It is held every three years at a different location. This year in Bali, the previous event was held in 2019 in Geneva, co-chaired by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and the Swiss government.

The GPDRR is based on a jointly defined framework for action: the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030).

The focus of this year's GPDRR is on preparing for the mid-term review of the Sendai Framework and the analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to the traditional understanding of risk and disaster risk reduction. The participants will also be asking themselves how global crises (climate, pandemic) can be used as an opportunity for radical change. This is essential to achieve the goals and targets of the Sendai Framework and the 2030 Agenda.

Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030

On 8 March 2015, delegations from 187 countries, including Switzerland, adopted a new international framework, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030), at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in the Japanese city of Sendai. This replaced the Hyogo Framework for Action, which covered the period 2005–15, and updated the concept of DRR.

The non-binding Sendai agreement defines the priorities for DRR until 2030, placing responsibility on the individual states. Switzerland played an important role in the development of the framework.

The Sendai Framework sets out the following four priorities:

  • understanding disaster risk;
  • strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk;
  • investing in DRR for resilience;
  • enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to 'build back better' in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

International Cooperation Strategy 2021–24

DRR is a thematic priority of Switzerland's IC Strategy 2021–24 and in line with:

  • Objective 2 (environment): "addressing climate change and its effects and managing natural resources sustainably" and
  • Objective 3 (human development): "saving lives, ensuring quality basic services (especially in relation to education and healthcare), and reducing the causes of forced displacement and irregular migration."

DRR is also one of the four priority areas of Swiss Humanitarian Aid and a prerequisite for achieving several goals of the 2030 Agenda.

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