A New Partnership to Reduce Impacts and Toll of Disasters
On April 5, 2017, the Embassy of Costa Rica in the United States hosted an Ambassador-level Dialogue on Disaster Risk Reduction across the Americas. The goal of the dialogue was to build cohesion, promote strong partnerships amongst stakeholder countries, and build on the emphasis of science and technology in disaster risk reduction, as called for under the SENDAI framework. The event, which was facilitated by the NASA Disasters Program, with participation from NOAA and USGS leadership, also highlighted the important role that Earth Observations and remote sensing imagery and data have in helping decision makers better prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. The event took place as one of a series of related meetings and conferences across the Americas, which will culminate with a regional Disaster Risk Reduction across the Americas Summit in Buenos Aires on September 4, 2017. Representatives from embassies of 15 countries attended, including many Ambassadors.
Introductions were provided by the Costa Rican Ambassador to the United States, Roman Macaya, as well as Vice Minister of Foreign Relations of Costa Rica, Alejandro Solano. Dr. Iván Brenes, President of the Costa Rican National Risk Prevention and Emergency Commission (CNE), gave an overview of his agency and its shift from disaster response to preparedness. US agency representatives Vaughn Turekian, The Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State, Sandra Cauffman, the NASA Earth Science Division Deputy Director, David Applegate, Acting Deputy Director of USGS, and Harry Cikanek of NOAA focused on different aspects of how science and technology can help with disaster response, including how free and open data is only as useful as what is measured on the ground, the importance of having identified end users to utilize data for decision making, as well as how the United States stands ready to support ongoing and future disasters, including through the activation of the International Charter for Space and Major Disasters.
Following these brief introductions, embassy representatives had an open dialogue about disaster risk reduction across the region. They discussed both success stories, as well as areas for improvement. Discussion involved everything from the impact of private initiatives on public policy recommendations and implementation, to how floods are a common disaster across the region. Discussion also focused on how to work with people not wanting to believe that the next disaster can happen to them, as well as solutions some of the countries had implemented to help change this prevailing attitude. Upcoming disasters meetings were discussed and it was argued that the consular and diplomatic communities can and should be involved in sharing information, contacts, and best practices since they are aware of all equities and touching points. It was also argued that badly-managed disasters can become political disasters too, and that countries therefore have a duty to ensure proper management and communication practices.
The event ended with all in attendance agreeing on the benefits of the meeting and that they should hold a series of meetings that would rotate locations, as unfortunately disasters will always make these sessions timely. The Brazilian representative offered to host a follow-on meeting this summer, after the May 2017 UNISDR Global Platform meeting in Cancun, but before the AmeriGEOSS Working Group on Disasters meeting in Costa Rica in July.