Living a culture of disaster resilience at all levels

“Building, strengthening and enriching the resilience of nations, cities and communities to disasters is every citizen, family and community’s responsibility” – was the message which resonated on the occasion of the Joint WHO Kobe Centre (WKC) and University of Hyogo Forum held on 20 November 2011 at the University of Hyogo, Akashi City, Japan.

The forum highlighted the whole-of-government and civil society approach to counteract all hazards and risks of potential and actual emergencies and disasters they could lead to.

Meeting participants
Resource speakers Dr Art Pesigan, Technical Officer, WHO Kobe Centre; Mr Hiroto Taki, Chief, City of Akashi and Dr Hatsumi Kanzaki, Professor, Univeristy of Hyogo listened to and answered a question raised by a participant during the Joint WKC-University of Hyogo Forum held on 20 November 2011 at the University of Hyogo, Akashi City, Japan

Dr Aiko Yamamoto, Professor and Executive Director, Research Institute of Nursing Care for People and Community, University of Hyogo, welcomed participants and informed them about guidelines available for the general public to prepare for disasters with specific guidelines for the elderly, children, people with chronic illnesses, pregnant and postpartum women. In a statement read by Dr Jostacio M. Lapitan on behalf of Mr Alex Ross, the new Director of WKC, he noted that aside from the tragic loss of lives, the global economic loss during the first six months of 2011 alone, arising from disasters caused by natural hazards, has been estimated at a staggering US$ 265 billion, the largest disaster loss so far in 3 decades. He advocated for political commitment to systematic disaster risk reduction as well as building back better than before.

Dr Art Pesigan, Technical Officer, Urban Health Emergency Management of WKC, expressed that humanity has tried its best to apply lessons learned from disaster experiences worldwide (including Japan’s Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995 and Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011). Yet, he expressed concern that the current and future landscape characterized by the interaction of driving forces such as urbanization, environmental change (including climate change), demographic change and aging as well as technological change on health and development would need more imagination in disaster risk assessment, communication and reduction in operationalizing the “Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters.”

Shifting from global to local (“glocal”) issues and priorities, Mr Hiroto Taki, Chief, City of Akashi and Dr Hatsumi Kanzaki, Professor, University of Hyogo, emphasized the need for intensive and extensive city-wide and university-wide vulnerability and disaster risk reduction through knowledge management and education throughout a person’s life course. Both alluded to sustainable empowerment of and innovation for populations - children, adolescents, adults and older people – and professionals (doctors, nurses, teachers, etc) working together for safer and healthier settings (cities and universities).

The Joint WKC and University of Hyogo Forum ended with a community emergency preparedness game where each participant tried his/her best to approach and communicate with another participant asking him/her about the role that s/he would be able to play during an emergency. Potential roles were classified as follows: 1) overall volunteer; 2) logistician; 3) first aider; 4) cook; 5) firefighter; 6) caregiver; 7) foreign language translator; 8) emergency kit organizer; and 9) other related tasks and responsibilities. Participants expressed their appreciation of the game stating that emergency preparedness begins with knowing one’s self and one’s capacities and that disaster resilience requires equal understanding of capacities of persons in the neighborhood and the larger community.