Regional conference on post-Haiyan

Article, 09.07.2014

Following the deployment of emergency aid and its support for the reconstruction effort, Switzerland has supported the Government of the Philippines in the organisation of a regional conference on the prevention of natural disasters and on the follow-up to the disaster caused by Typhoon Haiyan. The conference initiated a new frame of reference for the prevention of, preparation for, and response to major disasters.

Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, caused the deaths of more than 6,000 people in the Philippines in November 2013 and left millions more homeless. With the emergency aid measures now over and the reconstruction phase under way, Switzerland has topped its engagement in the Philippines with a support for the organisation of a conference in Manila on reducing risks and managing natural disasters. The conference, with the title "Post-Haiyan/Yolanda – A Way Forward", took place within the framework of the Asia-Europe Dialogue (ASEM) on 4–6 June 2014.

Alongside the European Union and Japan, Switzerland co-organised the conference, which was chaired by the Government of the Philippines, and actively participated in preparing and running it. In particular, it sent several disaster-prevention specialists to the Philippines, who contributed to the discussion.

Visit to the island of Leyte
Switzerland also financed a visit by the conference participants to the site of Tacloban, situated on the island of Leyte. In this zone, which was devastated by the typhoon in 2013, representatives of more than 35 countries from Europe and Asia were not only able to see with their own eyes the full extent of the destruction but also the incredible effort made since then by the local authorities to overcome the disaster and resume normal life.

Meetings with local officials offered the opportunity to understand what lies behind the success of the local recovery effort, which was in part achieved thanks to international aid and the help of the central government. Good preparation by local rescue teams and the responsibility taken by the municipal authorities were cited among other reasons for this success.

The participants also highlighted the local shortcomings in disaster prevention, which included the fact that existing maps of danger zones did not indicate the extent of the areas that could be affected by extreme events, giving many residents a false idea of their safety. In addition, information on the rise in the sea level and the massive waves that could follow was not translated into a language that could be sufficiently well understood by the local people.

Declaration adopted
The conference subsequently proposed that participants take the opportunity to address the various issues in the context of reconstruction following a major natural disaster. In Tacloban, for example, the purchase of land in safe zones remains an arduous process. Different prevention strategies to address future natural disasters, which would certainly be exacerbated by the effects of climate change, were also identified.
The conference concluded with a "Tacloban Declaration" which sets out the principles for overcoming a natural disaster such as Typhoon Haiyan and for reducing, as preventive measures, the effects of disasters. The declaration recommends integrated risk management as it is practised in Switzerland. It will not only create a frame of reference for the Philippines but also make a contribution to current efforts to define the new global framework of action for the reduction of natural disasters (post-Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015).
Switzerland is a key actor at the international level in the discussions under way on defining the content of this framework of action. The latter will be officially adopted in March 2015 at the world conference on disaster risk reduction, which is scheduled to take place in Sendai, in Japan.