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Harvard Humanitarian Initiative Panel Discusses Resilience Against Disasters

The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative is housed at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative is housed at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. By Zing Gee
By Salaidh A. Perez and Charlotte P. Ritz-Jack, Contributing Writers

Four experts in emergency response and humanitarian aid discussed strategies to prevent and respond to humanitarian disasters in conflict-ridden environments Monday afternoon in the first of a series of webinars titled “From Crisis to Resilience,” co-hosted by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

Ronak B. Patel, a Harvard Medical School professor and director of the Urbanization and Crises program at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative; Nahuel Arenas García, deputy chief of the Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean at the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction; Georgina Jordan, the head of emergency response at GOAL Global; and Patrick McManas, the head of development at Ireland’s embassy in Ethiopia, were all featured in the discussion.

David Donoghue, the former ambassador to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Ireland’s former permanent representative to the United Nations, moderated the event.

Each panelist laid out examples of long-term frameworks for humanitarian response, particularly in fragile, already conflict-stricken areas that may lack the traditional political systems to organize aid.

Jordan and Patel both cited a study co-authored by Patel and published in Progress in Disaster Science on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction’s role and utility in disaster-stricken areas. That study explored how GOAL Global responded to the crisis in Syria and how the organization supported food production and water distribution systems in response to shortages during the conflict.

In an interview after the event, Jordan said the Syria case study reinforces the need to implement long-term disaster preparedness initiatives instead of just responding to short-term crises.

“People need food and water. But at the same time, we have to make sure we put in these longer term Disaster Risk Reduction systems,” Jordan said. “The bigger picture is to actually focus on the longer term, building the sustainability of the system.”

Jordan said this infrastructure is indicative of how countries can and do respond to crises.

“Hazards are natural, disasters are not,” Jordan said, citing how California’s earthquake emergency response system offers a protection often not found in other earthquake-prone regions.

The event was the first in a speaker series coordinated by the HHI, GOAL Global, The Rand Corporation, and University College London. The idea for the series originated in the collaboration that resulted in the Syrian Sendai Framework study.

Patel said the series intends “to reach those who are practitioners in this sector, in this area, but also the academic side to share best practices.”

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