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With Sri Lanka still suffering from some of its worst natural disasters during the past two years, there was much significance for our country in yesterday’s United Nations International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction. This event was started in 1989 after a call by the General Assembly for a day to promote a global culture of risk-awareness and disaster reduction.   


According to the UN, the day celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of reining in the risks they face. 


This year’s campaign seeks to raise global awareness about effective actions, policies and practices taken to reduce exposure to disaster risk at the community level, thereby contributing to saving homes and livelihoods. This is a major challenge which could be accomplished only through coordination, cooperation and collaboration among many stakeholders, according to the UN. 


Last year saw the launch of the “Sendai Seven” campaign by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) centred on the seven targets of the Sendai Framework, the first of which is reducing disaster mortality. The campaign seeks to create a wave of awareness about actions taken to reduce mortality around the world. The UN says, Sendai Seven Campaign is an opportunity for all, including governments, local governments, community groups, civil society organisations, the private sector, international organisations and the UN family, to promote best practices at the international, regional and national level across all sectors, to reduce disaster risk and disaster losses. 


According to the UN, this year’s target is focused on prevention, protection and reducing the number of people affected by disasters by 2030. UNISDR says the event encourages people, communities and governments to take part in building more disaster resilient communities and nations. 
 At the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, the international community was reminded that disasters hit hardest at the local level with the potential to cause loss of life and great social and economic upheaval. Sudden onset disasters displace millions of people every year. In 2014, 19.3 million people were newly displaced by disasters. Disasters, many of which are exacerbated by climate change, have a negative impact on investment in sustainable development and the desired outcomes.  The UNISDR says it is also at the local level that capacities need to be strengthened urgently. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction is people-focussed and action-oriented in its approach to disaster risk reduction and applies to the risk of small-scale and large-scale disasters caused by man-made or natural hazards as well as related environmental, technological and biological hazards and risks. 


In Sri Lanka, we experienced contradictory calamities – one of the worst ever droughts in most of the districts while some districts were submerged by floods. Millions of people were affected in different ways while paddy cultivation was damaged so badly that Sri Lanka – once seen as the rice bowl of Asia has been forced to import more than half a million tons of rice. While hundreds of thousands of paddy  farmers were plunged into the mud holes of poverty, other crops were also badly affected either by the extreme drought or the floods. 


It was in such a situation that the government on October 6, launched the national food production week, with the hope of reaching the targets set in the Vision 2025 sustainable development goals. The week began with farmer’s day, where thousands of Mahaveli farmers were given land deeds and other benefits while others were encouraged to use organic fertilizers given to them at a subsidised rate, instead of expensive imported chemical fertilizer. On October 7, which was designated as students’ day, schools were encouraged and given incentives to launch large scale tree planting and cultivation programmes in their schools. Another Aim was to inspire students to be eco-friendly and responsible citizens instead of focusing only on paper qualifications. 


We hope the joint opposition and other extremist groups will rise beyond their self centeredness and cooperate in a mission, that has a vision of building a peaceful, just, and all inclusive society with inter-racial and inter-religious unity in diversity.   

 

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