UNDP turns risks in Lebanon into opportunities

25 Feb 2014

imageUNDP Lebanon - The team of the UNDP’s Disaster Risk Management Unit (DRM)

While Lebanon groans under the heavy weight of its political deadlock, the spillover of the conflict in neighboring Syria, and its alarming security problems, a dedicated UNDP team in the heart of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers are leading efforts to make Lebanon’s communities and infrastructure resilient to cope with these visible risks, and many other invisible hazards.

The team of the UNDP’s Disaster Risk Management Unit (DRM) has been operating since 2009 from the Grand Serail of Beirut.  The DRM Unit has been working at national, sectoral, and local levels to help Lebanon achieve substantive reduction of disaster losses in lives and social, economic and environmental assets whenever hazards strike.

We are here to expose vulnerability and transform it into strength,” says Nathalie Zaarour, UNDP DRM Project Manager. “Although 2013 was a bad year for Lebanon, especially with the rise of terrorism, we managed this year to create major breakthroughs in institutionalizing national measures for disaster prevention, mitigation, and preparedness,” adds Zaarour.

By “major breakthroughs”, Zaarour is referring to the establishment of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) by the Prime Minister Najib Mikati in February 2013 and the launch of the National Response Plan (NRP) in October of the same year, which in its turn inspired the design and implementation of the first-ever table top exercise, in accordance with instructions from PM Mikati in response to the terrorist explosions in Tripoli and the Southern Suburbs of Beirut in the summer of 2013.

Two years of hard work at the DRM Unit bore fruit through the National Response Plan adopted today as a reference document by all disaster-concerned agencies and decision makers,” says Zaarour. The DRM Unit is today in charge of nationally implementing and monitoring the NRP and is also acting as the technical and administrative focal point for the NCC, chaired by the Secretary of the Higher Council of Defense and involving concerned ministries, and which is called to convene by the PM with every hazard.

At the local level, the DRM unit has been collaborating with municipalities, universities, NGOs, among other local stakeholders. “We consider municipalities to be our entryway to introduce DRM in local communities,” explains Zaarour. “After we developed a response plan for Byblos, we are now also supporting the municipalities of Beirut, Tripoli, and Saida to increase the resilience of Lebanon’s largest cities to cope with natural and man-made disasters.

Although the security situation dominates the surface of Lebanon’s volatile environment, Lebanon is prone to natural disasters, evident in the recurrent floods and forest fires, adding to risks of earthquakes and tsunamis. In this context, UNDP has supported the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS) in submitting a flood assessment report in 2013, which included valuable maps highlighting flood recurrence and intensity, as well as hydrological geospatial database for river basins across Lebanon. These maps serve as an excellent tool to raise awareness on similar hazards and assist effective response.

Also in 2013, the UNDP DRM Unit submitted the second national progress report within the Hyogo Framework for Action, which outlined the first steps required from different sectors and actors to reach a common system of coordination for risk governance in Lebanon. The reports suggests an action plan to accomplish the five priorities of action for 2005-2015, which seek to make DRM a national priority, enhance early warning and effective response, and promote a culture of safety and resilience.