CWS Participating in Major Disaster Risk Reduction Conference

March 12, 2015

A demonstration/lecture during disaster risk reduction training in Indonesia that included CWS staff members. Photo: Chris Herlinger / CWS

A demonstration/lecture during disaster risk reduction training in Indonesia that included CWS staff members. Photo: Chris Herlinger / CWS

CWS will be represented at both the third United Nations Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, to be held March 14-18, and the parallel Global Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction for Civil Society, March 14-17.

CWS staff members are taking a number of leadership positions at both events, including participation on a discussion on implementing best practices of disaster risk reduction at the community level, to be held Sunday, March 15.

Takeshi Komino, CWS’s country representative in Japan, will participate in the main conference and will be part of daily debriefing sessions about the UN event.

A key part of CWS’s championing the theme of disaster risk reduction will be the importance faith-based organizations have in reducing the risks of disasters.

“Faith-based organizations, like CWS, play an important role in responding to disasters,” Komino said. “Faith-based groups have a wide reach; they are close to local people, resources and ‘social assets.’ In addition they are often among the first responders in emergencies and are very connected to existing local networks.”

Both the UN event and the civil society events are expected to attract tens of thousands of participants under the overall theme of ways communities and nations can build resilience against disasters.

In a position paper released prior to the international events, the Geneva-based ACT Alliance, of which CWS is a member, urged the UN conference to adopt a new international framework for disaster risk reduction that takes into account, among other things, the primary responsibilities of states to address risks of preventable disasters and the central role of local communities in all disaster risk reduction interventions. Also, that disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation are mainstreamed into sustainable development based on strong political commitment; that the “underlying root causes of vulnerability” and ways to overcome such causes must be addressed; and that faith-based organizations be recognized for their key role in disaster risk reduction.

On the specific issue of faith-based response, ACT Alliance lifted up the active involvement of faith-based organizations in disaster risk reduction.

In a position paper, the Alliance said: “Specific to the proposed priority for action on strengthening governance and institutions to manage disaster risk, the role of faith-based organizations in the prevention of disasters, in risk reduction and in building resilience needs to be stressed. FBOs (faith-based organizations) often are among the first responders in emergencies.

“In many contexts, they are particularly well situated to respond in the first 24-96 hours of an emergency. They are present even in very remote disaster-affected areas that may be physically impossible for external actors to access. They are also found in communities that have weak or fragile states. FBOs often are members of larger, sometimes global networks and alliances which allow efficient sharing of knowledge and of human and physical resources well beyond institutional boundaries.”

The ACT Alliance statement also made clear why disaster risk reduction is a priority for humanitarian agencies like CWS: “Risks in their many forms, such as climatic, social, environmental, economic or health risks, are increasing. They impede development gains that are particularly intended for the poorest and most vulnerable groups, including children, people with disabilities, women, the elderly and indigenous communities. At times of (recurrent) disasters, many of these groups are usually left behind.”

In the last two decades, natural disasters have affected 64 percent of the world’s population, according to the UN, and economic losses associated with disasters continue to grow each year in all parts of the world, in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

As well, the ACT Alliance report said, “95 percent of people killed by disasters are from developing countries. Women, children and the elderly disproportionally suffer the greatest disaster losses, (and) more than 50 percent of people affected by ‘natural disasters’ live in fragile and conflict-affected countries.”

Given that, CWS and ACT welcome new and renewed action for disaster risk reduction throughout the world.

Komino said that “billions of people in the world live with one faith or another, and whatever faith they believe in, that is worth respect.  But, such respect comes with social responsibilities, as well.  Faith-based communities need to step up, collaborate beyond their sphere of influence, and consider ways of creating further social protection together.”