The Middle East has its fair share of natural disasters, but the notion of disaster risk reduction is new, and it is often difficult to persuade governments that funding it is worthwhile, experts say.
“The region is affected by disasters such as drought, cyclones, landslides and earthquakes. There are earthquake prone areas in North Africa and the Jordanian Valley. Floods are also a common hazard and have been occurring more frequently in recent years,” said Luna Abu-Swaireh, regional programme officer at the Cairo-based UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).
Rapid economic and urban development has also concentrated people in hazard-prone cities, where little effort has gone into boosting risk reducing capacities, she said.
The impact of climate change is also felt. “Syria, for example, was severely affected by the worst drought ever [in 2008 and 2009]. In April, UAE [United Arab Emirates] had heavy rains and even very low temperatures on high ground,” Abu-Swaireh said.
According to the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT), over the last 28 years about 37 million people in the Arab region have been affected by droughts, earthquakes, floods and storms, whilst Arab economies lost about US$19 billion during the same period.
The 2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Progress launched on 17 May in Bahrain said: “[Global] progress towards achieving the priorities for action contained in the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) remains mixed.”
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Some progress has been made by Arab countries on disaster risk reduction, but “not at the speed required to fulfil the commitment of the Hyogo Framework for Action [HFA] by 2015,” Luna Abu-Swaireh said.
Only Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Yemen have been monitoring closely and reporting on the implementation of HFA. Bahrain and Egypt have set up national coordination mechanisms, whilst Jordan, Syria and Yemen have been working with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and others on hazard mapping and risk assessments, according to UNISDR.
“Action is very small compared to what Arab governments are saying,” said Emad Adly, general coordinator at the Arab Network for Environment and Development (RAED), a community-based regional NGO which promotes disaster risk reduction practices at community level.
“Arab countries say a lot about understanding the importance of risk reduction and the link between disasters and sustainable development in regional and international conferences, but this does not translate into plans on the ground,” he told IRIN.
“[Arab] NGOs have programmes such as reducing poverty or improving the livelihoods of rural areas, but are they aware that these are in the framework of a risk reduction strategy?” Adly asked.
Photo: Adil Hameed/IRIN
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Funding remains the main challenge facing humanitarian workers wanting to implement disaster risk reduction projects in the region.
“People working in this field know that if a disaster happens they can find money for it. When the tsunami hit [parts of Asia] billions of dollars were donated. But to find funding for a development programme in Salt [a town in west-central Jordan], for example, is very difficult,” International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ disaster management coordinator in the Middle East and North Africa, Abdel Qader Abu Awad, told IRIN.
“When we went to the old town in Salt, we found it has extremely narrow roads. If there were an earthquake in the area, no rescue vehicle would be able to enter the town,” he said.
Funding is also a problem at the local and national level. “There is huge resistance from governments and institutions to allocating money for safety,” said Mohamad al-Khalil from the Comprehensive Disaster Risk Reduction Programme at UNDP Syria.
“We proposed to the Ministry of Education [in Syria] a number of important measures related to the safety of school premises and the raising of awareness among schoolchildren. Despite the pressure we exerted, the sums allocated were insufficient,” he said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions