National launch of the United Nations Global Assessment Report 2013 as part of the International Building Resilience Conference 2013

The International conference on Building Resilience 2013, held in Ahungalla, Sri Lanka included the national launch of the latest in the series of bi-annual Global Assessment Reports (GAR). The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, in its third and the latest edition, emphasises the importance of the business case for disaster risk reduction. It highlights how the transformation of the global economy over the last forty years has led to rapid increases in disaster risk in low, medium and high-income countries, affecting businesses and societies. The GAR report states that economic losses linked to natural disasters are ‘out of control’ and will only increase without more focus on disaster risk management. This can only be reduced with an effective public and private sector partnership.

A panel discussion at the Conference provided an opportunity to contextualise the GAR theme within a Sri Lankan context. Dr Bingu Ingirige from the University of Salford chaired this session and introduced highlights of the GAR report and its significance to the community. Marina Mohammed, the Secretary to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Disaster Management, identified the importance of the GAR report by highlighting the 3 key sectors based on their pertinence to Sri Lanka: tourism, one of the main income earning sectors; agriculture, which contributes 30% of the country’s GDP; and urban planning, including key projects such as the Urban Colombo flood control programme.

Dan Lewis, a UN HABITAT expert contributed to the plenary session as a panel member highlighting how the GAR reports starting in 2009 helped frame global discussion on disaster risk reduction. His brief presentation identified how the latest GAR report shifts the thinking from a shared risk to a shared value paradigm identifying the case for public and private sectors taking a more systematic approach to address the underlying disaster risk drivers. Prof Mohan Kumaraswamy, an expert on public and private sector partnership (PPP) schemes brought to light the people aspect and how involving the fourth “P”, ‘People’ comprising communities, academia professionals and other stakeholders, may help focus on long-term shared value targets within a public – private partnership, therefore overcoming barriers.

Within Sri Lanka, the panel identified a need to improve the knowledge, capacity and capability of conducting Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for all developments, including those developed by both the public and private sector. Members of the panel cautioned that some of the new developments appeared to be increasing the risk of disasters. However, in terms of recent developments, the keynote presentation identified that the road sector has already implemented the process of Disaster Impact Assessments.

The panel discussion also identified a lack of technical knowledge in preparation of hazard and vulnerability maps, which could otherwise benefit the business sector in locating their enterprises. In moving forward, the Ministry of Disaster Management encouraged scientists to work with them in uplifting the capacity and capabilities of the Sri Lankan public and private sector bodies to improve disaster risk reduction. The specific areas of input identified were: Risk transfer schemes and insurance; Damage loss assessments and DRR needs assessments; and, Preparation of vulnerability and risk maps covering some of the key geographic areas.