UNDRR convenes Asia-Pacific scientists and policy makers to prevent the next ‘unexpected’ disaster
The plight of concurrent disasters, caused by more intense weather events and the smouldering COVID-19 pandemic, has heightened the need to bring policy makers and the scientific community closer to strengthen risk governance.
Indeed, that was one of the key messages delivered by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, in his message to the world on this occasion of International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was marked on 13 October.
“Good disaster risk governance means acting on science and evidence,” said Mr. Guterres.
With that backdrop, the 2020 Asia Pacific Science and Technology Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was originally scheduled to take place in Malaysia in March before moving to a fully virtual event, took on increased importance as disaster risk reduction officials and researchers deliberated on the key issues challenges facing the region.
Hosted by the Government of Malaysia, the 15 October conference was organized by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) Asia-Pacific Science, Technology and Academia Advisory Group (APSTAAG), along with a number of partner organisations. It was attended by over 200 registered participants, in addition to around 1,700 people who viewed the online live stream.
Opening the conference, Datuk Dr. Aminuddin bin Hassim, Director General of Malaysia’s National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), commended UNDRR for organizing the conference, saying:
“This conference is an important platform for providing an opportunity for the science, technology and academic community in Asia and the Pacific to continue the much needed science-policy dialogue for advancing disaster risk reduction measures, based on robust and reliable science, technology and innovations.”
Mr. Hassim also took the opportunity of the conference to announce the launch of Malaysia’s National Risk Register.
Developed in partnership with the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, the register is meant to help the public and stakeholder groups better understand the country’s disaster risk landscape. It was also noted that the register plans to use UNDRR’s DesInventar as its primary disaster information management system.
The conference was noted for its inclusive nature, in particular of the Pacific island countries, and of all sectors and stakeholder groups.
“This is not an academic symposium, but it is a platform where different stakeholders who use science and technology can join, discuss and develop partnerships,” said Professor Rajib Shaw, Co-Chair of the APSTAAG.
Professor Shaw introduced one of two key publications that were launched at the conference; the Status of Science and Technology in Disaster Risk Reduction in Asia-Pacific 2020.
“This is an excellent piece of work. It is really important that we benchmark how we, as a science and technology community, think we are performing against our key priorities,” said Dr. Martyn Hazelwood, Director of Regional Development at Geoscience Australia, who participated on behalf of the Government of Australia.
The second publication was the Asia-Pacific Regional Framework for NATECH (Natural Hazards Triggering Technological Disasters) Risk Management, which represents the first attempt to create a framework by which countries in Asia-Pacific can seek to manage the risks of NATECH disasters. An issue that has become increasingly critical in light of growing concerns that climate change could trigger NATECH events with cascading impacts, including biological ones.
In addition to providing a platform for senior officials and established scholars, the conference showcased the contributions of youth and young scientists, most notably the members of the regional alliance, U-Inspire, who participated in technical sessions and a dedicated “youth stage.”
Speaking on the importance of harnessing the energy and creativity of youth, Dr. Mazlan Othman, Regional Office Director of the International Science Council, cited her organization’s recent work in empowering youth around the International Youth Day:
“We brought together young social entrepreneurs working on disaster risk reduction to exchange experiences and to expose them to key funders to understand their requirements. A key outcome was the launch of the Register of DRR Social Entrepreneurs.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic overshadowed many of the discussions, it was important to note that effective disaster risk prevention requires looking to the future to guard against disasters that have not yet occurred, rather than simply look at past disasters.
“We tend to be influenced by cognitive hazards where we are constantly reacting to what has already happened or what we see. COVID-19 is only a symptom of something that was systematically wrong in how we handled risk and has manifested as a mega-disaster. It is COVID-19 today, but it could be something else tomorrow. Let us manage the risks of today, so that the development of tomorrow can be ensured,” said Mr. Animesh Kumar, Officer-in-Charge and Deputy Chief of UNDRR’s Regional Office for Asia-Pacific.
The conference concluded with the Kuala Lumpur Consensus, which will remain open for feedback and comments from participants for two weeks.
The outcomes of the conference will feed into the upcoming Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which will be hosted by the Government of Australia and convened by UNDRR in 2021.
A full recording of the conference is available online on the Academy of Sciences Malaysia’s Facebook page.