Thursday, August 22, 2013

'The Survival and Wellbeing of a Generation of Innocents' in Syria

Today was a major milestone - the one million mark. One million children refugees today, August 22, 2013.  "A shameful milestone", reports UNICEF.

This 1 millionth child refugee is not just another number," said Anthony Lake, executive director of Unicef, the UN agency for children. "This is a real child ripped from home, maybe even from a family, facing horrors we can only begin to comprehend. He added: "We must all share the shame, because while we work to alleviate the suffering of those affected by this crisis, the global community has failed in its responsibility to this child. We should stop and ask ourselves how, in all conscience, we can continue to fail the children of Syria. - Anthony Lake, UNICEF

The largest refugee crisis in 20 years prompted the UN to launch their largest appeal in history - a $5 billion emergency appeal. With half of all fleeing refugees children, and 75% of these under 11 years of age, the needs are staggering. More than 100,000 killed in the conflict, at least 7,000 of these children. Less than 20% of these children have received any kind of psycho-social support, and the Syrian regional response appeal is less than 40% funded - $1.9 billion short. 40,000 refugees have crossed the border this week alone. As Antonio Guterres said:

The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures...Even after they have cross the border to safety, they are traumatized, depressed and in need of hope.

The Guardian's Mark Tran sheds light on the impacts of this crisis on children while Peter Beaumont discusses some of the latest thinking behind the international community's paralysis. What is behind this?

Today's horrific tragedy at Ghouta, what appears to be the use of chemical weapons - nerve gas - by government forces, causing the excruciating death of what has been reported by Al Arabiyat as over 1,300 civilians - many of the victims children. The Syrian Army denies the claims. These grim facts reveal again children's real, raw vulnerability to disasters... as well as their resilience; and how little is being done to address this.

To drive this point home, no one can do it better than a child. Thanks to the Guardian and Bathoulahmed, a citizen journalist, for sharing precious Bilal's story with us. (Photo and story courtesy Bathoulahmed and the Guardianwitness which is calling for Syrian citizen journalists through September 1st.) May Bilal inspire you to do your part to support Syria's children.

Bilal, is 11 an 11 year old Syrian refugee from Qusayr. A few months ago, as he sat in a local the barber shop near his home, an explosion tore through his neighborhood shattering the glass of the shop. Flying glass hit Bilal straight in the eye, instantly blinding him in one eye. Since then, Bilal has been wearing a hat to avoid drawing attention to his eye. His mother told me that he has lost all his confidence. He is too embarrassed to face people because he is worried they would think he looks weird and laugh at him. But Bilal took of his hat and allowed me to see his face. He has the face of an angel.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Dignity can not wait for better times."

This is brilliant. Must watch. Thanks to Margareta Wahlström for tagging this for us and Mahmood and Alberto Cairo for doing it. May we live it.


Road to Sendai: Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction

Its' official - the save the date announcement came out yesterday from the UNISDR for the Third World Conference on Disaster Reduction. So in case you have not seen it, here it is:
Dear partners,

Subject to an anticipated decision of the UN General Assembly later in 2013, the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) is to take place in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, from 14 to 18 March 2015 (five days inclusive).

Hosted by the Government of Japan in cooperation with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), as secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the WCDRR will review the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action and is expected to adopt a successor framework for disaster risk reduction.

The post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction will build on the knowledge and practice developed through the implementation of the International Framework for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction of 1989, the Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action of 1994, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction of 1999 and the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters. Pursuant to General Assembly resolution 66/199, UNISDR will continue to ensure extensive and inclusive multi-stakeholder consultations for a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction.

Kind regards,
International Day for Disaster Reduction 2013

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)
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Saturday, August 17, 2013

I absolutely have to share this rose with you...such a simple beauty standing in my front yard. And this incredible Aria - "Vaù" (Feriae V in Coena Domini, Lectio Seconda from the remarkable Giacomo Carissimi's Lamentazioni per la Settimana Santa)! I hope you enjoy them!

Friday, August 16, 2013

In July my heart was caught by the Gambia. Well not like the abstract concept of the Gambia but what must be the heart and soul that endures past losing hope. By children and people who believe in a better future for themselves and others and do something about it... daily.

For ten days I was privileged to be there conducting a training workshop on DRR. Following are a few of my experiences and impressions. The life of the place, including the culture, people and hospitality; as well as the complex and pervasive layering of vulnerabilities and impacts of climate change are indelibly stamped in my mind...

One of the most moving stories is of a friend of mine who used to be a sponsored child with ChildFund. From a very poor village, he now is married and works as a program manager helping other Gambian youth and their families overcome gut-wrenching poverty... and since our workshop he’s inspired to return to his home village and share what he learned on risk and resilience. He is such a passionate guy about giving back, "Because they believed in me," he says of his sponsors, “I want to give back to my community by building their capacities to reduce risks”... I received the photo above earlier this week, along with a request to review his workshop plan.

So his idea is to train up 50 young people, creating awareness and hazards pertaining to their locality, spreading the culture of disaster preparedness, and imparting skills and knowledge on DRR so that the youths and their families and communities can be more resilient to disasters, and better able to manage them when they do occur. Incidentally, he’s raising funds locally to pay for the training – most of it coming from his own pocket. Amazing? Look at the picture and see future leaders!

It inspires me to think of the cascading impact and influence of these 50 young people in their various walks of life, as well as the impact that the workshop will likely have on their own individual lives and futures. It is exciting to see when the powerful idea of resilience takes off and forms a life of its own. I believe that the seeds that we planted together in the Gambia at the DRR workshop that are now germinating will grow towards the betterment of life in West Africa.

My co-trainer in the pink shirt on the right is from Liberia. During the war he hid for three months inside of a burnt structure of a house with no roof - nothing but a shell. He crawled around at night hoping and praying not to be discovered. The colleague to my left is from Sierra Leone. When the rebels descended on her village to take retribution for a crime that a neighbor had committed, they chose her house. Able to convince them that the man they sought was from a neighboring village and not hers, she and her family escaped harm. The lovely young lady kneeling in front started by helping us in administration and logistics, but was so gifted, and similarly captivated by the topic that she ended up participating, making a presentation on vulnerabilities in the community on behalf of the Gambia country office.

More to follow soon...




Wednesday, August 7, 2013


CALL FOR ABSTRACTS (received August 5th, 2013)

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) is issuing a Call for Abstracts as part of the development of the 2015 Global Assessment Report (GAR15). The GAR15 will be published prior to the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015, in which governments will adopt a successor framework to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA).
The purpose of this Call for Abstracts is to encourage more research investigating the degree to which the HFA has been fit-for-purpose in affecting change in the management of disaster risk, and in so doing, contribute to both the formulation of the successor framework to the HFA (the HFA2), as well as the development of indicators for effectively measuring the impact of the forthcoming framework.

UNISDR seeks input papers to the 2015 Global Assessment Report (GAR15) that present research, oriented by indicator, addressing the following issues:

  • what changes have been observed since the adoption of the HFA in 2005, and what has been the impact in terms of risk to society; 
  • to what degree has change been facilitated by the HFA or other emerging drivers of effective disaster risk management; 
  • determine if the change was adequately captured by the indicator in its current form and if not propose an alternative impact indicator;
  • what elements will need to be developed for inclusion in the successor framework to the HFA.

To date, research has principally been limited to an analysis of progress in implementing the HFA, based on a factual appraisal of the feedback provided by government and inter-governmental review, as well as major stakeholder groups, against the 22 core indicators of the Priorities for Action of the HFA.  These indicators have thus far encouraged the measurement of inputs as opposed to outputs and impact. The Call therefore seeks to encourage research that:  examines and provides evidence of change since 2005 through the lens of the 22 core indicators;  and investigates the extent to which such change can be attributable to the components of the HFA, or other emerging issues.

  • The deadline for submitting abstracts is 1 month after the date of the Call, or September 5.
  • Abstracts should be 300 words or less.
  • Abstracts are to be submitted to using the submission template available at
  •  Abstracts must be informed by the Call for Abstracts, Guidance Document and the Concept Paper available on the dedicated workspace.
  •  After review of the abstracts by UNISDR, the Coordinating Organisation and the Coordinating Lead Author, UNISDR will invite successful applicants to develop full GAR15 input papers for submission by the date specified in respective Concept Papers (and by the latest 31 December 2013).
  •  Input papers will be used by the Coordinating Lead Author to develop GAR15 Background Papers, which will be subjected to both an informal peer review, as well as an external peer review.
A second Call for Abstracts will be issued on 15 September 2013 covering the remaining research areas outlined in the generic Call for Abstracts available on the workspace.

All input papers will be made available online as an annex to GAR15. In addition, UNISDR will coordinate the submission of all final papers to an academic journal for consideration in a special issue focusing on the state of disaster risk management. The use of Input Papers in the development of GAR 15 Background Papers will be at the discretion of the CLA.

For more information contact UNISDR: Rhea Katsanakis ( 


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Global Platform for DRR 2013 - Day 2

You are in for a treat! Today was an action-packed, edge of your seat kind of day at the #GPDRR13. Report on the launch of the Global Assessment Report, a room small enough to feel like an intimate discussion with the President of the Global Risk Forum, the Chair of the Drafting Committee of the original 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action...

DRR Progress - Where are We and what about DRR Governance?
Here is Dr. Marco Ferrari, discussing DRR Governance and Government. You are very fortunate to get to hear him, in the video I will post tomorrow as well - the latest on progress in the DRR global movement and priorities, from one of the authors.


DRM versus DRR - Yes We still need to Distinguish Them, and Clearly
Dr. Walter Amman, President and CEO of the Global Risk Forum, also spoke on DRR: Government to Governance - From Disaster Risk Management to Integrative Risk Management-the Paradigm Shift in DRR, bringing greater clarity and distinction in DRM and DRR, calling for exactly that - a paradigm shift. It seems we are not as far along as we should be, and policy makers and practitioners alike can do well to heed the wise counsel of these two leading thinkers and global leaders, Dr. Ammann and Dr. Ferrari.

New Knowledge & New Conceptual Models
Professor Peijun Shi gave an absolutely brilliant presentation on "Professional Management and Integrated Governance" presenting his latest thinking around DRR and governance, along with some refined conceptual models which I will share more about tomorrow. As usual, Dr. Shi from Beijing Normal University, knocked our socks off. In addition, he showed his kindness by gifting me a complete publication of the Atlas of Natural Disaster Risk of China, an amazing book. Thank you, Dr. Shi!

Priority 5 of the Children's Charter for Disaster Risk Reduction -
Prioritization of the Most Vulnerable as Expressed by a very Powerful  Advocate
Finally, in one of the most moving speeches I've ever heard, a Vietnamese boy and budding DRR activist with cerebral palsy shared his experience of being trapped in his parents' home in a flood, and them helping him escape... he spoke on behalf of children with disabilities and challenged the international community to urgently prioritize people with disabilities preparedness and response planning, helping them evacuate first in times of disaster. To me, listening to him was really what DRR is all about. When we launched the Charter, it was really a way to express voices and experiences like his, and it was such a privilege to hear him speak out at the GPDRR. I was told by one of the facilitators that two months ago, he had never been to school, as his parents are very poor. One day, he attended a DRR training with his father, and after the flood he wanted to help people in his village so he continued to learn about DRR, and was invited to attend the GPDRR in Geneva. If the future of DRR is informed and guided by the likes of him, it will indeed be very bright. May it be so!

For more information on the Children's Charter, see


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Panajachel Bound...

I'm back! Headed for Guatemala in 48 hours to work with NGO staff and local communities on a new multi-country DRR capacity building venture. Stay tuned! We are just beginning this journey!