Geneva: Green Cross International (GCI) has launched a new project dedicated to helping local communities become better prepared for and able to cope with environmental emergencies, such as industrial and technological accidents, chemical and oil spills, forest fires, environmental impacts of natural disasters and man-made emergencies.
The Environmental Emergencies Preparedness project, part of GCI’s Environmental Security and Sustainability programme, has been established with the aim to help reduce the deaths and human suffering caused by such emergencies, as well as decrease disaster-related environmental and economic losses.
“Reducing risk at the local level is fundamental,” says Alexander Likhotal, President of Green Cross International. “Civil society and NGOs have a prominent role in building preparedness capacities of local authorities and communities.”
Vladimir Sakharov, director of the new project, says the world has seen a dramatic increase in the frequency and magnitude of natural and man-made disasters that severely affect lives, livelihoods and the environment. In 2011 alone, 302 disasters claimed 29,782 lives, affected 206 million people and inflicted huge economic damages of US$366 billion, according to the United Nations.
“Disasters and emergencies kill and displace many people, as well as cause substantial economic, social and environmental damage,” says Mr Sakharov. “The impact of disasters, when all costs are calculated, can therefore represent major losses for all countries.”
“As a consequence, international emphasis is now shifting from responding to disasters to developing national and local capacities for emergency preparedness and response planning, particularly in vulnerable low- and middle-income countries.”
It is crucial to involve local governments and communities in the design and implementation of preparedness measures. But such practices are far from being universally applied. Local authorities in the less wealthy nations often have limited resources and many competing needs (e.g., education, access to safe drinking water, housing, etc.). Despite this, very little assistance is provided to local governments for environmental emergencies preparedness.
The new GCI Environmental Emergencies Preparedness project will focus on integrating disaster preparedness into sustainable development efforts at local level, promoting risk management and emergency preparedness activities in specific locations, networking, exchanging information and best practices, providing access to specialised expertise and knowledge, initiating and implementing capacity building projects at local level, convening conferences and workshops, and conducting training courses and simulation exercises. As part of this effort, GCI has also recently joined the Global Risk Forum GRF Davos.
The project will be implemented in close cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies at Local Level process (APELL); the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) Environmental Emergencies Centre (EEC); the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (ISDR); the Global Fire Monitoring Centre (GFMC) and Green Cross National Organizations.
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