Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction
13 October 2019
The devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian in the archipelago of the Bahamas is yet another stark reminder of the grave consequences that natural disasters inflict upon communities.
Last March in Mozambique, Cyclone Idai alone caused the destruction of 3,300 classrooms and disrupted the education of almost 260,000 students, demonstrating the vulnerability of this infrastructure that is so crucial to the life and future of States.
This year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction is dedicated to the prevention of damage to essential infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools.
Faced with such common challenges that demand strong international mobilization, UNESCO has committed to strengthening its support to Member States through the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, in line with the 2030 Agenda.
UNESCO is at the crossroads of education, culture, communication, information and the sciences, and thus has unique value based on an all-encompassing, multidisciplinary vision that fully caters to the cross-cutting nature of today’s issues. UNESCO is therefore in a position to combine expertise and perspectives to catalyse efforts and foster positive synergies for the common good.
In recent years, UNESCO has undertaken a paradigm shift through prioritizing preventative approaches over reactive policies. This enables us to predict the causes of disasters rather than mitigate their consequences, by which time it is usually too late.
This approach has already resulted in concrete action for the protection of vital infrastructure. In this regard, UNESCO, which currently chairs the Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector, has provided invaluable technical support to Member States through VISUS, a new evaluation methodology that takes into account a diverse range of potential hazards. This system was successfully tested in seven countries, including in Haiti, Laos, Peru and Mozambique, and enabled rigorous evaluations to be carried out that will significantly improve the safety of over 500,000 students, professors and teaching staff.
In addition to this innovative programme, our Organization’s technical expertise is always available to Member States, so that governments can ensure that infrastructure is resilient.
Another example of UNESCO’s prioritization of this preventative approach is the Organization’s continued fine-tuning of the development of early warning systems for tsunamis, floods, earthquakes and droughts.
However, there is a risk that such initiatives shall no longer be sufficient if humanity does not succeed in limiting global warming, as the climate crisis and erosion of biodiversity exacerbate the number and intensity of natural disasters. We can ignore this no longer. The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published on 25 September 2019, was yet another reminder of this reality. For this reason, full compliance with the Paris Agreement, for which UNESCO is strongly mobilized, should also increase the disaster resilience of our societies.
The mitigation of devastation caused by disasters is therefore a global issue that determines the future, not only of our economies and environmental heritage, but also of humanity. Let us join forces in this fight – there is no time to lose.