Aqaba hosts meeting on reducing disaster risk

Over 250 key actors together to draft blueprint

21 March, 17:41

(By Kate Carlisle)(ANSA) - Rome, March 21 - Natural disasters can strike anytime, anywhere...they are indiscriminating. No place on earth is free from them. While Aqaba, Jordan's liberalized, low-tax, duty-free area is quickly becoming a world-class hub for business and leisure, it has also worked hard to be a regional point of reference for disaster planning and hazard management.

On Tuesday, representatives from the League of Arab States began gathering in Jordan to reach a common Arab position on the new international guidelines that will replace the Hyogo Framework for Action - the current blueprint for global disaster risk reduction adopted by the member states of the United Nations in 2005.

The outline that was crafted to make the world safer from natural hazards expires in 2015 and needs a replacement framework. The first Arab Regional Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction opened on Tuesday in the Aqaba and will close today. Professor Dr. Kamel Mahadin, Chief Commissioner of Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), said that Aqaba is honored to host the first Arab Regional Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. "We are pleased to welcome the distinguished representatives from the 22 members of the League of Arab States gathered here to reach a common position that will make the world a safer place from natural hazards".

Jordanian architect, professor and Head Commissioner Mahadin says that the the region is a unique area whose "nations are cut from one cloth" and who often face similar risks.

Mahadin thanked UN representative Margareta Wahlsrom from the United Nations for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) for their recognition of Aqaba as a "role model for localizing disaster risk reduction". "As we gather together here today to develop a declaration on disaster risk reduction, we also seek to establish benchmarks for reducing all possible disaster risks to the region's cities.

I am proud to say that Aqaba is on the right track...we have invested heavily in our infrastructure, but most importantly we have invested in our people". Over 250 key actors have come together to coordinate continuous and consistent risk reduction. This regional coordination mechanism will facilitate exchange among countries and partners, and provide a platform where Arab politicians, policy makers, academics and other experts can periodically discuss progress and challenges facing the region with regards to disaster risk reduction.

An Arab Declaration on Disaster Risk Reduction in Cities will be drafted during the conference. This declaration aims to establish benchmarks for reducing disaster risks in Arab cities - an important initiative considering that the Arab world is predominantly urban, with over 60% of the population living in cities across the region.

"Arab countries have made a very significant progress on the development front over the past decades," commented Jordan Ryan, Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery in the United Nations Development Programme. "Such advances, however, are often put in jeopardy by weak systems for disaster response, which make the population vulnerable against a multitude of environmental catastrophes, especially in urban areas," he added.

Different parts of the Arab region are regularly exposed to a number of risks including geological hazards such as earthquakes and landslides, in addition to weather related hazards such as floods, extreme temperature events, drought, sand storms, wildfires and cyclones.

According to the UN 2010 Environment Outlook report for the Arab region, more than 37 million people were affected and more than $20 billion were lost between 1980 and 2008 due to disasters triggered by natural hazards. The outcomes of these regional deliberations will be presented at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction from 19-23 May 2013 in Geneva, the world's foremost gathering of stakeholders committed to reducing disaster risk and building the resilience of communities and nations. The new (post-Hyogo) guidelines will be adopted in the upcoming World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction that will be hosted in Japan, in 2015.

"It is the first time that decision makers, ministries, organizations and institutions from the Arab states come together to share experiences and promote regional coordination for reducing the impact of natural disasters", said Beat von Daeniken, Swiss Agency for Development and Coordination (SDC) Regional Director of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. "This is a fabulous platform for sharing good experiences and bringing stakeholders from different countries together. It is also a strong sign to the world that the Arab states are getting better organized and contribute to a worldwide discussed consensus about disaster risk reduction", he added. This first Arab Regional Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction is co-organized by the United Nations for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), the League of Arab States and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR). Aqaba strives daily to keep its charm intact and preserve its original port-city feel. With the added sense of preparation for all that might blow its way, visitors have just one more reason to kick back and let the magic of the Red Sea jewel nurture their every desire.


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