To what extent is Lebanon prepared for a disaster?
During the sixth session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction organized by the UN in Geneva, Lebanon presented an overview of its disaster risk management plan of action.
In order to be effective, disaster risk management, more precisely disaster risk reduction, must involve all every sectors, administrations and official and unofficial actors in the country. At the same time alongside the need for comprehensive inclusion, failing to include disaster risk factors in development policies could undermine risk management measures in the event of a disasters, natural or otherwise.
During the sixth Sixth Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction that took place in Geneva from 13 to 17 May, organized by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the Arab countries' efforts in to address risk management were discussed, as well as the challenges they continue to face.
At the meeting, Lebanon appeared to be in a good position in terms of its administrative preparations (according to the United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction Arab Bureau), having developed a national disaster risk management strategy (that is yet to be approved by the Council of Ministers) with regular reports submitted to the UN office. Zahi Chahine, head of the Risk Management Unit affiliated to the Prime Minister’s office, provided some details.
"We prepared a first national strategy in 2012 with the assistance of UNDRR, but given the particular circumstances the country has witnessed, we could not submit it to the Council of Ministers for ratification” he said. In 2018, the decision was taken with UNDRR to develop the strategy by the end of the year (following the Sendai Framework), so that it could be adopted by the Council of ministers,”. said Chahine.
Speaking to OLJ, Mr. Chahine said that the main risks considered in Lebanontaken into consideration by the plan were forest fires, landslides and floods, which are frequent events, in addition to seismic risks, which are rarer. Lebanon has made progress in terms of strategy and awareness, but it still needs to refine its action plan and compensation schemes, and perhaps most importantly, work on prevention, he added.
On the administrative level, Lebanon has formed two committees. One is for made up of decision-makers, composed of all this committee is made up of general directors, while the other, which does most of the work on the national level, is composed of representatives of from different concerned administrations involved in the strategy. If the strategy is on track, the action plans for early intervention in the event of various disaster scenarios should also be implemented, said Mr. Chahine said, explaining that one of the challenges that may need to be addressed involves any conflicts that may arise between different security agencies on the ground. "In Lebanon, we do not yet have an early intervention plan in case of emergency," he lamented. “We are the office responsible for risk management, it is true, but we have to work out where to turn when it is necessary, for example, to evacuate the population. The chain must be completed. And, above all, there is nothing more worthwhile than investing in prevention because it saves a lot of funds in terms of compensations later on. "
"Despite UNDRR's assistance in the monitoring and follow-up of the Sendai Framework, one of the major challenges is the need to integrate this risk-prevention mentality into all [the] ministries, so that they can do their own monitoring” he added. “This is how we will have the data needed to conduct a national assessment. Currently, it is mainly the CNRS that provides us with data of this type," Mr. Chahine further explained, in reference to the National Council for Scientific Research.
Asked about the prerogatives of the Risk Management Unit, Mr. Chahine said the Prime Minister has issued a circular asking all administrations to collaborate with it, "but what matters the most is the implementation of strategies that we have defined and not the texts themselves.”,” he said.
Saïda, a resilient city
As Chahine pointed out, the strategies must not focus only on the national level alone, but also need to be also developed at the sectoral and local levels in across the different regions. He stressed that one of the commission’s objectives is to establish control rooms and action plans in the different districts regions of across the country (currently, only Beirut and Nabatiyeh do not have strategies aligned with the principles of the Sendai Framework, for multiple a variety of reasons).
During the presentation of by the UNDRR, two cities were cited as having resilience capacities, Saïida and Jbeil. Saïda was represented at the UNDRR summit by Moustapha Hijazi, a member of the city’s municipal council. "We joined the resilient cities (disaster-resilient) campaign that was launched in the Grand Serail early on," he told OLJ, adding “Saïda now has its own strategy for dealing with risks, as well as its own urban development policy that takes this factor into account, since any development that is not based on potential risks cannot be sustainable. "
In terms of risks, he pointed out that Saïda is particularly exposed to destructive storms and very high waves, or "mini tsunamis". "That's why we expanded the pier to protect the old city," he said. “This adaptation in the infrastructure paved the way for many improvements in to the city, including the fact that we were able to change the location of the commercial port. And historically, the city has experienced significant coastal pollution due to the presence of a large dump (now treated). So we fought pollution at this level. "
Mr. Hijazi said the municipality held training sessions in schools, launched awareness campaigns, and organized a live simulation to verify the level of preparation of various actors how prepared various actors were in case of a major disaster such as an earthquake for example. "At the level of [the] South Lebanon districts, we now have an operations room that will greatly facilitate coordination in case of emergency," he stressed, adding: “We have focused our attention on certain sensitive points such as intervention in the old city for example, which is particularly difficult to access."Mr. Hijazi further pointed out to the importance of local strategies that complement the national strategy they are aligned with. "Some disasters affect a limited geographic area and therefore do not require intervention at a national level," he said. “In these cases, local authorities are the main actor the population resorts to. They must be prepared for all eventualities. "
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 15th of May)