Investment in the integrated management of the risk of natural disasters strengthens local populations' resistance and increases their ability not only to recover following a catastrophe of that kind, but also to recognise the risks involved and prepare in an appropriate manner. This ties in well with Switzerland's other efforts to improve people's general living conditions. In the course of its chairmanship of the OSCE in 2014, Switzerland will place emphasis on the integrated management of risks through capacity building and international cooperation. Switzerland intends to improve not only the effectiveness of natural disaster prevention, but also the management of such catastrophes from a humanitarian perspective and the reconstruction work that follows.
Capacity building through training
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) will work on raising awareness of this issue in OSCE countries, seeking to foster understanding and the establishment of regional training courses to help prevent, prepare for and respond to emergency situations. The following activities are foreseen:
- strengthening/creation of national platforms comprising risk management specialists;
- specialist training for those responsible for OSCE projects on the ground in order to take better account of risks stemming from climate change and environmental damage;
- regional training in the South Caucasus and Central Asia in order to increase national decision makers' awareness of natural hazards, which can cause serious technological accidents;
- action to help local communities and staff (both governmental and non-governmental) to prevent and prepare for natural hazards, since these people are the most vulnerable in the event of a natural disaster.
Thus, there are various target groups: emergency response teams, national decision makers in the area of risk management, OSCE project heads and local communities/staff.
Management of the risk of natural disasters: a key issue in the Prague Cycle
"Improving the management of natural disasters" will also be the subject of the high-level economic and environmental forum scheduled to take place in Prague from 10 to 12 September 2014, as well as the two preparatory meetings in Vienna and Montreux, which will take place in January and May respectively. The SDC will play an active role in the organization of these events, which are termed the "Prague Cycle". Looking ahead to the conference in Prague, the SDC is drawing up a declaration on the resilience of nations and communities, which it wants the 57 participating countries to adopt.
The SDC will also organise break-out sessions on the fringes of the second preparatory meeting in Montreux, offering field trips to the canton of Valais. One group will take the Great St Bernard Pass and consider the issue of cross-border cooperation in the case of rockfalls and water-borne debris, as well as looking at the prevention of avalanches and the protection of forests against them. Meanwhile, a second group will look at natural hazards (such as earthquakes, flooding or forest fires) which can cause accidents affecting key infrastructure (e.g. a chemical factory or a hospital), familiarising themselves with the various ways of preventing them.
Importance of preventing natural disasters
Looking at the financing of international aid provided on account of major natural disasters at the beginning of the 21st century, it is clear that the bulk of such aid is used to provide emergency assistance. Considerably less money is invested in preventing and reducing the risk of disasters, or in reconstruction and rehabilitation. Although the OSCE has so far shown only limited interest in preventive work, this organisation has the potential to play a significant role in this area, as it brings together the major donor countries in the fields of development cooperation and humanitarian aid.
Ahead of the third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which is set to take place in the Japanese city of Sendai in 2015, the SDC regards Switzerland's chairmanship of the OSCE as a unique opportunity to make progress on the issue of managing the risk of natural disasters. It will work on strengthening existing international partnerships and instruments.
Opportunity to build trust
When the OSCE met at its summit in Istanbul in 1999, shortly after Turkey had been struck by a major earthquake, the need to strengthen coordination between participating States, international organisations and NGOs was explicitly recognised. International cooperation in the management of disasters, including preventing and preparing for such events, presents an opportunity to build trust between countries, thereby contributing to general security.
A whole-of-government approach
Responsibility for the coordination of international action in the area of disaster risk reduction (DRR) lies with the SDC's Humanitarian Aid. That being said, Switzerland favours a whole-of-government approach – i.e. the various parts of the SDC (Humanitarian Aid and the SHA, Cooperation with Eastern Europe, and Global Cooperation Climate Change), the Directorate of Political Affairs (the Sectoral Foreign Policies Division) and other federal departments concerned with these issues (the Federal Office for the Environment and the Federal Office for Civil Protection) are actively involved in the deliberations that drive the work of the OSCE task force on disaster risk reduction.