The declaration also recognises the devastating impact of COVID-19 around the world and the threat posed by future epidemics and pandemics (AFP)
The international symposium on Multi Hazard Early Warning and Disaster Risk Reduction 2020 (MHEW DRR 2020) held from December 14-16 at the BMICH, Colombo witnessed the participation of 32 national, regional and international agencies responsible for tackling disaster risk in Sri Lanka.
This three-day international symposium, held as a hybrid event of face-to-face and online, brought together over 2500 participants from the Government of Sri Lankan, private sector, non-governmental organisations and higher educational institutions on to one platform. The event was jointly organised by the Disaster Management Centre (DMC), University of Huddersfield, UK, Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre and the University of Moratuwa along with the input and sponsorship from several other partners. The ‘new normal’ lifestyle amidst the current global pandemic of COVD-19 paved the way for the creation of a virtual platform which was a well-coordinated and successful effort between the whizzes of the two universities and the DMC, the host of this international event. Many local and international participants took advantage of the virtual platform facility and joined remotely.
The participants examined how research, science and technology could be used to support the efforts of the implementation of the ‘Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction’ towards 2030. The Symposium included a combination of four keynote addresses and five panel discussions which involved leading national and international policy makers and scientists. These were complemented by 20 technical sessions where 157 detailed scientific, policy and practical applications were presented and shared among the participants.
These wide-ranging interventions provided the basis for a Declaration by the Disaster Management Centre, Sri Lanka, together with other key stakeholders responsible for disaster risk reduction in the country, region and beyond, to work together to tackle the priority issues identified and addressed during the symposium.
Commenting on the successful conclusion of this three-day event, Director General of Disaster Management Centre Maj. Gen. (Retd) Sudantha Ranasinghe said, “This international symposium was conducted at a very critical time amidst a global crisis which is still searching for a permanent solution for the COVID-19 global pandemic. The crisis has taught the world a lesson, and it is time we harmonise with the environment and hold Mother Nature supreme. The world continues its life, but has put humans in cages”.
Sisira Madurapperuma, representing the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC), was enthused by the commitment demonstrated during the event. “Today is a key milestone for the disaster management practice community in Sri Lanka, adopting the Colombo Declaration,” Mr Madurapperuma said, adding, “We believe this declaration will reshape, rephrase and accelerate the implementation of national strategies, supported by global and regional instruments”.
The declaration expresses deep concern at the growing frequency and intensity of extreme weather and climate related challenges and the continuing impact of disasters, resulting in an unacceptable loss of human lives and livelihoods, displacement of people and environmental and economic damages in Sri Lanka and across the world.
Upon signing the declaration, Prof. Dilanthi Amaratunga, based at the Global Disaster Resilience Centre at the University of Huddersfield in the UK, stressed the vital role of science in supporting efforts to tackle disaster risk.
“There is an urgent need to strengthen and mainstream the inclusion of research, science and technology applications in Sri Lanka,” she said. “We need to build a community of practice that crosses scientific disciplines and links science, policy and practice. This declaration provides an important step in our roadmap for achieving set policies and protecting people at risk”.
The declaration also recognises the devastating impact of COVID-19 around the world and the threat posed by future epidemics and pandemics. It stresses the need to focus on developing a holistic understanding of societal challenges, risks and drivers, like poverty, climate change, loss of protective eco-systems and biodiversity, rapid urbanisation and unplanned development in hazard prone areas, socio-economic inequalities and population growth along with their interactions. It also underlines the need to build resilience against all hazards, including emerging and unforeseen hazards such as biological, human animal transfer of diseases, hormones and micro plastics.
The declaration sets out fifteen key priorities and actions that must be reflected by stakeholders in order to address these challenges. This bold step taken by DMC, was inspired by the UN Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction agreed by UN member states in 2015. It includes a strong call for higher education and science to support the understanding of disaster risk and promote risk-informed decisions and risk sensitive planning from the local to the global levels. The goal is to strengthen evidence based approach in support of the implementation of the new framework.
There was also recognition of the need to ensure coherence with other global frameworks such as the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the New Urban Agenda. Fifty four scientific contributions from the conference will also be published in a peer reviewed book, titled: “Multi-Hazard Early Warning and Disaster Risks” to be published by Springer Nature in 2021.