National and local government leaders, NGOs and international aid agencies worldwide this week called for more support to help deal with the consequences of natural and human-made disasters around the world.
In a keynote address at the 20th session of the Governing Council of UN-HABITAT, President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya said: “I am gratified to note that one of the special themes during this session of the Governing Council of UN-HABITAT will focus on post conflicts and disasters mitigation. I hope that the outcome of the deliberations will contribute significantly towards reducing the impact of disasters particularly in developing countries.”
During a dialogue on Tuesday, several delegates shared their own experiences of mitigating and managing disasters. Mr. Hilson N. Baptiste, Minister of Housing, Culture and Social Transformation of Antigua and Barbuda, pointed out a special concern of small island nations – the fact that a natural disaster can wipe out the entire economic base. Learning from chaos created by uncoordinated information and relief aid in the aftermath of hurricanes, he stressed the importance of establishing one focal point, through which all information and relief supplies are released to affected communities.
Mr. Satoru Miyamura, Japanese ambassador to Kenya, shared experiences in Japan, of how strengthening the local capacity has effectively reduced the vulnerability of the population in the disaster-prone island nation: “Communities are often the first to respond to disaster before external aid agencies arrive. Evacuation training prior to disaster and prompt dissemination of disaster warnings helped reduce damages.”
The importance of community participation and local ownership of reconstruction efforts was repeatedly emphasized by a number of delegates. Relief and reconstruction efforts need to be community-based, encouraging capacity building of local government as well as re-establishment of local businesses and livelihoods. Mr. Qiamuddin Djallalzada, Deputy Minister of Urban Development and Housing in Afghanistan, stated that involvement of affected populations in reconstruction efforts generated positive energy in communities for recovery in post-war Afghanistan.
In light of effective disaster response and recovery, the need to link emergency relief with long-term development strategy was emphasized. Mr. Paul Simkin, Technical Advisor of the European Commission for Somalia said: “Relief and development are not mutually exclusive.” His comment was supported by several participants from the floor, including Mr. Ardian Gjini, Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning in Kosovo. He cited UN-HABITAT’s activities in Kosovo in support of housing and property administration and good governance.
The significance of the roles women play in peace building and reconstruction processes was highlighted throughout the discussions. However, at the same time, relief activities tend to categorise women as victims and beneficiary recipients in programming, rather than enabling them to be actively involved and increase their capacity through relief and reconstruction activities. ‘’Women should not be disconnected from recovery processes,” the Huairou Commission said.