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International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction - Student debate

On the occasion of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, FAO Geneva, in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the Capacity for Disaster Reduction Initiative (CADRI) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), organized a student debate on “Reducing Economic Losses from Disasters-Promoting Local Actions in Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation in the Agriculture Sectors”. The event took place at Bern University of Applied Science (HAFL) on12 October 2018 and gathered students from HAFL and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).

The debate was moderated by Ms Wirya Khim, FAO Natural Resources Officer. A panel composed of four judges - Ms Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett (FAO), Ms Shoko Arakaki (UNISDR), Ms Sophie Baranes (CADRI), and Mr Daniel Maselli (SDC) - was formed to evaluate the performance of the debaters. 

In her opening address, Ms Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, Director of FAO Geneva – alerted the participants that hunger is on the rise and it is significantly worse in countries where agriculture systems are highly sensitive to rainfall, temperature and severe drought, and where the livelihood of a high proportion of the population depends on agriculture. She informed that beside conflicts, climate variability and extremes are a key force behind the recent rise in global hunger. She added recent FAO studies show that agriculture absorbs about 26 percent of economic damage and loss caused by climate-induced disasters in developing countries. Relative to other sectors, drought affects agriculture disproportionately, taking up to 80% of all damage and loss, in particular in crop and livestock production. FAO Geneva Director called for all actors/stakeholders to urgently accelerate and scale up our actions to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity of people and their livelihoods to climate variability and extremes.

Prof. Dr. Urs Scheidegger, Head of Master’s Programme, Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences –  warmly welcomed partners and the audience and emphasized the importance of having more research in the areas of DRR/CCA and resilience in the agriculture sectors. He added partnerships between academia and UN and development partners are crucial in producing new knowledge and scientific evidence.

Ms Shoko Arakaki, Chief of Branch, Partnerships, Inter-governmental process and Inter-agency cooperation, UNISDR of UNISDR – warned that last twenty years have seen a dramatic rise of 251% in direct economic losses from climate-related disasters. She highlighted that local communities dependent on agricultural livelihoods are among the groups that disproportionately face increased risks of poverty as climate change increases.

Ms Sophie Baranes, CADRI Coordinator underlined that disaster losses continue to increase dramatically across all socio-economic sectors and the 17 SDGs are under threat from climate change impacts and disasters.  She added national DRR plans and strategies are not tailored to the needs and demands of local communities and are not underpinned by an understanding of vulnerable groups needs and demands.

Finally, Mr Daniel Maselli, Senior Policy Advisor of SDC, said it is important to add the required empathy when addressing climate change and disaster risk issues and not to remain trapped in pure facts and figures - both during official negotiations and when interacting with a wider public as well as in particular with media representatives. Only when people and organizations get their thinking and their approach right, only if they apply the corresponding right tools will the right actions be undertaken to move into the desired direction. One needs to understand, that the poor can’t afford to take (too) high risks. This means that only the better off can profit from risk taking and wait for a perfect harvest in a rain fed area as an example.

The debate resulted in a very informative and interesting discussion. The constructive and rebuttal speeches were well-prepared with good fundamental analyses drawn from many FAO and other relevant publications. Each speaker possessed good analytical and public speaking skills that contributed to this entertaining yet educational event. In addition, the debaters demonstrated a good understanding of the issues/topics including resilience building, sustainability, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, local empowerment, bottom up and top down approaches. Both sides (affirmative and negative teams) were able to present the current issues and challenges faced by the agriculture sectors in the context of climate change and disasters and how they could be addressed jointly by relevant stakeholders ranging from smallholder farmers and their communities to policy makers. Each team approaches the proposition with different tactics to address how to promote local actions in DRR and CCA in the context of agriculture, food security and nutrition.

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