Cultures of safety: "Volunteers essential"
21 May 2011
by Jacinda Fairholm

Delegates at the 3rd Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, 10-13 May, 2011. (UNV)Delegates at the 3rd Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, 10-13 May, 2011. (UNV)
Geneva, Switzerland: Community volunteers are essential in building cultures of safety, solidarity and ownership, said delegates at a recent conference on disaster risk.

They also agreed that volunteers are best placed to utilize local resources and knowledge for risk reduction.

The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 acknowledges that "civil society, including volunteers and community-based organizations, are vital stakeholders in supporting the implementation of disaster risk reduction at all levels".

At the 3rd Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction from 10-13 May, a UNV-sponsored side event ‘Engaging the Community: Volunteerism and Disaster Management’ aimed to build awareness of and offer recommendations on how to improve volunteer integration in disaster risk reduction approaches and activities.

The panel reflected three distinct but complementary perspectives, involving representatives from international, national and civil society.

Oliver Wittershagen, Disaster Risk Reduction focal point at UNV, provided a broad overview of the role volunteerism can play in transforming the nature and pace of development.

Speaking on behalf of Director General Ronald Jackson, Collette Roberts from the Office of Disaster Preparation and Emergency Management (ODPEM), shared the Jamaican experience of making volunteers the heart of national disaster management. In Jamaica, volunteers are central to managing community flood warning systems and emergency shelters, providing first aid, and conducting hazard identification and damage assessments.  

Umesh Prasad Dhakal, Executive Director of the Nepal Red Cross, explained that the Red Cross’s work in community-based disaster management is based on evidence that volunteer engagement builds solidarity prior, during and after disaster and creates the conditions for community resilience.  

The panel provided recommendations to “make good” on the Hyogo Priorities for Action involving volunteers.  

UNV advocated for the inclusion of volunteerism in national disaster management plans, policies and programmes.

ODPEM encouraged national authorities to examine what vulnerable communities can do for themselves and how to strengthen their efforts.

The Red Cross stressed the importance of establishing a systematic and institutional approach to volunteer management in preparation and response to disaster situations.

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