March 11 marks five years since the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and one year since the Third U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction was held in Sendai, the center of the disaster-hit Tohoku region.

To commemorate these events, Sendai will hold the 2016 Sendai Symposium for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Future on Saturday.

“It’s been a year since the U.N. conference and five years since the earthquake. It’s a milestone day and we should gather people from various sectors who are working on revitalization and disaster risk reduction to share their achievements and discuss future agendas,” said Emi Oba of the Sendai Disaster Resilient and Environmentally Progressive City Promotion Office.

The one-day symposium has been jointly organized by the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) in Japan and supported by the Cabinet Office, the Reconstruction Agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures and the International Recovery Platform. The symposium plans to host 1,000 people, including members of the public, municipal government officials and researchers, engaged in various activities to revitalize the Tohoku region and reduce disaster risks.

No pre-registration is necessary to attend the symposium, though some sessions may reach capacity.

“The purpose of this symposium is to think and share ideas about what we can do to accelerate disaster risk reduction in the future in Sendai and the Tohoku region. We hope to accomplish this through presentations on a variety of topics, discussing and sharing the direction and challenges of their future activities in accordance with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030,” according to the symposium website.

The Sendai Framework is the international guideline for disaster risk reduction that was adopted at last year’s U.N. conference.

The framework is a 15-year, voluntary, nonbinding agreement that recognizes that the state has the primary role to reduce disaster risk, but that the responsibility should be shared with various stakeholders, including local governments, the private sector and others. The framework contains several specific goals to promote the importance of disaster preparedness, concrete measures to reduce damage and international cooperation to make the world more disaster ready.

At the main venue of the symposium, the Sendai International Center, the keynote speech will be delivered and several seminars will take place.

After opening remarks by Sendai Mayor Emiko Okuyama at 10 a.m., Robert Glasser, special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, will deliver the keynote address titled “Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and Expectations to Local Actors.”

Following Glasser’s address, there will be 11 seminars. In one of them, the General Incorporated Association Miyagi Cooperative Reconstruction Center will introduce its project, “People-centered Roadmap for Reconstruction.”

Additionally, the Sendai-Miyagi NPO Center will make a presentation, titled “Machinowa: Citizen-centered Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.” The nonprofit organization will discuss citizen volunteers and the structure of volunteer groups that will maximize the efficiency of support the groups offer to disaster-hit areas.

The city of Sendai will discuss “The Current Status of Reconstruction and the Future Challenges of the Great East Japan Earthquake” from the viewpoint of a municipal government.

Sendai and the Gender Equal Opportunity Foundation will jointly deliver a presentation, titled “Talk×Talk Women in Leadership 2016,” to discuss women’s roles in disaster risk reduction and the revitalization of Tohoku. They will also discuss the importance of female leadership during non-emergency times.

Also, the Japan International Cooperation Agency will discuss international cooperation to deal with the aftermath of disasters. In a session organized by the Fukkou University Alliance, students will report on their volunteer activities.

Tohoku University’s Research Organization of Electrical Communication will discuss measures to maintain electricity and communication networks in case of disasters. The Cabinet Office will introduce recent efforts by local governments to come up with disaster risk reduction plans, with a view toward encouraging more municipalities to do so.

In the closing session, scheduled for 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., participants from different stakeholders will present challenges and their ideas on concrete actions to take, allowing them to explore a common direction toward 2030 and a chance to brainstorm about what to do to contribute to global efforts on disaster risk reduction.

Also at the same venue, exhibitions and small presentations will take place at the Sendai International Center.

In the exhibition space, 52 groups, including non-profit organizations (NPO), companies and government organizations, will display posters and other materials to introduce their activities related to disaster risk reduction and revitalization.

Nine organizations, including Kokugakuin University, Kubota Corp., Tokio Marine Holdings and some volunteer groups, will hold small presentations.

Additionally, related events will be held at other venues in Sendai to commemorate the disaster and the U.N. conference. For example, NPO 20th Century Archive Sendai will hold several discussions on the disaster at Sendai Mediatheque.

The city of Sendai, the largest city in the Tohoku region, aims to lead the movement to raise global disaster risk reduction awareness by introducing various activities in line with the Sendai Framework, which was endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly following last year’s Third U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

The framework has seven global targets: 1) Substantially reduce global disaster mortality by 2030, aiming to lower average global mortality rate per 100,000 in the decade ending in 2030 compared to the period ending in 2015. 2) Substantially reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030, aiming to lower average global figure per 100,000 in the same time period. 3) Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to global gross domestic product by 2030. 4) Substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030. 5) Substantially increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020. 6) Substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of this framework by 2030. 7) Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030.

To achieve the goals, there are four priorities to be shared with the world.

First, the world needs to better understand disaster risk. Disaster risk management should be based on an understanding of disaster risk in all aspects of vulnerability, capacity, exposure of people and assets, hazard characteristics and the environment. Such knowledge can be used for risk assessment, prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response.

Second, governance to manage disaster risk must be strengthened. Disaster risk governance at the national, regional and global levels is critical for prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery and rehabilitation. It also fosters collaboration and partnership.

Third, public and private investment in disaster risk prevention and reduction through structural and non-structural measures are essential to enhance the economic, social, health and cultural resilience of persons, communities, countries and their assets, as well as the environment.

Lastly, disaster preparedness for effective response and to “build back better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction must be enhanced. The growth of disaster risk means there is a need to strengthen disaster preparedness for response, take action in anticipation of events and ensure capacities are in place for effective response and recovery at all levels. The recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction phase is a critical opportunity to build back better, including through integrating disaster risk reduction into development measures.

Download the PDF of this 5-year memorial of Great East Japan Earthquake

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