There was a tragic tone to this yearâ€™s Opening ceremony of the 4th Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction. As delegates gathered at Genevaâ€™s conference center on the early morning of 21st of May, the news of the Oklahoma tornado that took place the night before spread through the hallways like a dark reminder of what this Platform is all about. While getting our heads around the consequences of this disaster for one of the worldâ€™s most economically developed countries, UN Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, put it into perspective: â€śThink how much more dangerous the situation is in places where people are poor and living in fragile homes with insufficient water and health services.â€ť
Platformâ€™s attendees needed not to be reminded of their workâ€™s importance, nor of the responsibility that lies in every one of our hands. Majority of them work on disaster prevention and preparedness, but face every-day disaster consequences on a daily basis, be it famine, draught or other natural and man-made tragedies. Yet, every now and then, and more often as we continue to abuse our natural resources, a disaster strikes so suddenly and so hard that it draws all mediaâ€™s attention and puts a spotlight on the issues these people deal with in their every day work. There is a certain energy and power of the moment in which a great number of consciousness comes together, when all of our thoughts go out to the same, and a sense of urgency that became tangible as delegates entered a high level dialogue on disaster risk reduction.
Though crucial to raising awareness, translating rhetoric into policies and putting pressure on private and public sectors to start taking action, governments, international organizations, industries and corporations are not the first to reach the victims when a disaster strikes. It is the hands of volunteers that do.
With his network of 13 million volunteers, the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is the larger global actori involved in humanarian assistance. In 2010, their volunteers contributed to help 30 million people and provided services for a cost estimated at 6 billion US dollars. The work undertook by the Red Cross in this field consists not only in saving lives, and reducing the suffering and the protection of those affected by disaster, but also in managing and preparing preventive measures of disaster risk reduction. The volunteers help local communities to locate potential and important dangers, as well as to prepare different mechanisms and actions to anticipate disasters. Such mechanisms include early warning systems, local preparation and intervention plans, and maintaining emergency stocks.
Local community resilience was one of the focuses of this year's Platform. Nikki Kaye, New Zelandâ€™s Civil Defence Minister, spoke at the opening ceremony about the community and volunteer involvement and the role of young people, from the experience of Canterbury community response in 2010. She payed special tribute to the earthquake response from young people led by Sam Johnson, a student from Canterbury University, who organized a volunteer army to help Cantabrians immediately after the earthquake. â€ś:statement from the opening:â€ť
While she spoke those words, more than 25 emergency response vehicles by volunteers were being deployed by American Red Cross to reach Oklahoma. The room in which the session was taking place was being supervised by volonteers. On the same time, volunteer reporters were taking notes and were preparing the report of a certain number of sessions.
Indeed, smart and motivated volunteers participated actively in the organization of the Global Platform and certainly contributed to its success. More than 100 volunteers from 32 different countries â€“ that is more volunteers than UN staff - were involved in various and important tasks, ranging from registration and welcoming of delegates, room supervision, VIP welcoming, reporting, photography and videography. Ten of them even came from abroad (Italy, Philippines, UK). All of them showed great energy and spirit of initiative to ensure the effective and smooth functioning of the Platform.
Passionate in helping people, Michael Molloy, who has a background in politics, was involved in the welcoming of VIP and officals, as well as the supervision of the official statements. In his eyes, volunteering is a fantastic experience and this is why he got involved in the conference. Not only was he able to meet high level officials, he also felt the importance of this conference. â€žI have seen so many people from all over the world, coming together to show how powerful the global community can be when they join their efforts towards a common goal. When you see the recent events in Oklahoma or what happened in Fukushima, I think it is important that organizations work togetherâ€ś.
For Christopher Hendrickson, young English graduate, who has followed a number of session as reporter, the Platform had allowed him to see a range of varying activities and his reports were very helpful in the general running of the conference. â€žVolunteering is a way to get involved in something you are very passionate about.â€ś
For his first experience as a volunteer and into the UN world, Oliver Leutke, who comes from the private sector and who attended the Platform as a photographer, was interested by the number and diversity of people attending the conference. â€śThere are two aspects I notice. Obviously, there are a lot of political talks. But there are also grassroots discussions and I found it much deeper than these formal discussions, because they are present on the field and they do very concrete measures.â€ś