BEIRUT: United Nations Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlstrom said in an interview with The Daily Star Thursday she supports a new law under consideration to help prepare the country to respond to natural disasters.
Wahlstrom said the country needs a basic structure for organization to exist in the country before other natural disaster preparations can take root and endure. A draft law currently under consideration by Parliament to establish a direct chain of command during natural disaster response would make that possible, she said.
“I think for them, the first thing to do is to improve the possibility for emergency response in case something happens,” Wahlstrom said.
“If that doesn’t happen, work will still continue, but that one will really help the country to become effective and they will feel more comfortable and more confident as we work,” she added.
Wahlstrom met Wednesday with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who expressed his support to increase disaster management efforts. Mikati also endorsed a national plan to coordinate disaster response with the country’s nearly 1,000 municipalities and called for researchers and universities to devote more time to disaster management and collect data on the events after they occur.
Scientists have warned of natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and floods that could cause catastrophic levels of destruction in the country, which has an underdeveloped infrastructure.
Lebanon’s location in the Mediterranean basin and near the African and Arabian tectonic plates puts it at severe risk for a massive earthquake to strike. Last year, earthquakes struck Eastern Turkey, killing hundreds of people and leveling towns. Scientists say it’s just a matter of time before such an incident hits here.
Wahlstrom said two projects, a national disaster response strategy and a data collection program, already in motion can lay the ground work for preparing for those disasters.
The data collection operation is compiling a database on all the natural disasters that have struck the country and the amount of damage they inflicted. Once fully collected, the data will give officials a better idea of the damage a disaster could cause and how previous response attempts worked.
There are a number of other disaster response programs that are ongoing or have been carried out by international organizations recently in the country. The Beirut airport underwent a disaster response assessment and training several months ago and is making reforms to its operations. Other programs have attempted to improve emergency response by municipalities.
Wahlstrom also attended a workshop Thursday to discuss more disaster programs to run in the country. Some of the workshops involved increasing women’s representation in disaster response, one of the recent focuses of Wahlstrom’s disaster response office.
She said women’s exclusion from disaster preparations leads their individual concerns to be excluded, and they must be included in the process.
“If you are not part of the plan they will not consider your situation,” Wahlstrom said. “Preparedness does not take into account that women have specific needs.”