WHY BE CONCERNED ABOUT HAZARDS?
Natural and Technological disasters cause great human and economic losses: according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), for the sole year 2008, more than 235 000 people were killed, 214 million people were affected and economic costs were over 190 billion US$.
The developing countries suffer the greatest costs when a disaster hits: they suffer more than 95% of all deaths caused by disasters and the losses due to natural disasters are 20 times greater (as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product) in developing countries than in industrialized countries (according to the World Bank).
Disasters are also a major issue for citizens of developed countries who can suffer them on their own territory (the 2009 earthquake of L’Aquila in Italy implied 308 deaths, 1500 injured and losses exceed US$16 billion) or can face it abroad due to their increased international mobility (both Sweden and Germany lost over 500 citizens each in the 2004 South East Asia tsunami).
WHAT CAN WE DO?
We cannot prevent many of the disasters (especially those natural) but there are certain ways to minimize the risk of disaster, in particular by distributing to all countries the best international experience in Emergency Management.
As Emergency Management in all countries is based on State Management Systems (at local, regional and national levels) but relies on accurate Public awareness and knowledge on hazards, risks and prevention measures, it is thus essential to increase awareness of people on :
what types of disaster risk exist in specific areas,
what is the nature of that risk,
when it could happen,
how can their consequences be minimized
This information has to be open to the general public directly, also via teachers, medical doctors, local authority representatives, Civil Protection services or others.
WHO ARE WE?
Our desire to present common material based on sound international experience requires a pre-existing international network of expertise in the field of major natural and technological hazards and related disasters.
Since 1987, the European and Mediterranean Major Hazards Agreement (EUR-OPA) is a platform within the Council of Europe for co-operation in that field between 25 countries of Europe and the South of the Mediterranean.
One of its main objectives is to reinforce and to promote co-operation to ensure better prevention, protection against hazards, risks and better preparation in the event of major disasters.
Apart from its political content, the Agreement has an effective network of Centres spread over its 26 member states: the material presented in our website stems from the respective expertise in the different fields of major disasters management of those Centres.
The coordination of the Initiative on website development and its day-by-day operation is carried out by Cyprus Civil Defence.
THE GOALS OF THE INITIATIVE
While State Emergency Management Systems have to deal with different contexts (legal basis, capability, recourses, procedures, etc.) in each country, the behaviour of the individual, who is crucial for their survival, can mostly make abstraction of that context.
The Besafenet Initiative focuses thus on that aspect and wishes to achieve three main goals:
Promote a culture of safety among a new generation of people
Raising awareness on implications of their actions and their way of thinking on emergency
Replacing fear with a culture of preparedness
Disseminate knowledge to multilingual societies
Create a common knowledge base of best experience
Disseminate it in several languages to benefit a wider audience
Become an interactive tool
Open our website to other users and organisations for their benefit and comments
Enrich its content by contributions based on external experiences
WHAT IS OUR SPECIFICITY?
Many sources of information, especially in most widespread languages, exist nowadays on the Internet on hazards description and emergency measures. However, no common material is available in a variety of languages and that is the main specificity of the Initiative: provide unified information to the largest number of persons in their native language. By surfing through the website they will also have access to a lot of useful information and data, such as Case studies, Lessons learnt School curriculum and also photos and videos.
But the Initiative wishes to go beyond a simple electronic textbook: using games, cartoons, animations, groups of discussions, etc., we hope to provide a friendly and interactive environment in order to interest and introduce young people to hazards and risk prevention, awareness and action in such catastrophic events.
It will thus be a powerful tool offering an exchange of information and communication within countries that share a similar vulnerability to disasters, to lesser or greater extent. In addition, school children and generally young people will find a common ground to exchange views and ideas in their own language and get support either from each other or from experts.
HOW CAN YOU CONTRIBUTE?
The particularity of the material presented in our website is to be oriented not only towards final users but also towards further diffusion through intermediaries.
As a citizen, you will have basic information on hazards and the basic actions to take both to prevent disasters and to face it when they happen.
As a teacher, you will have the capability to use additional information to spread knowledge on hazards and disasters among your pupils. In some countries, no clear-cut slot is left in current curricula to such training and more traditional such as geography or physics has to be used to introduce it.
As a student, the higher level material provided can be useful for your specific training in order to include disaster reduction issue. In future, you will be professionals taking decisions and consequently influencing (even modestly) the resilience of our societies to disasters.