Disasters-SDGs-Undersea tsunami research: an exciting seminar

27 October 2017 – In the middle of the Indian Ocean, the famous French scientific research ship Marion Dufresne.  Aboard the vessel, Professor Satish Singh, geophysicist and head of the "Mirage II Expedition", video-linked to the Palais des Nations, where more than 120 university students drink in his words and conjure the pictures of the explorers and researchers, under the sea, learning how tsunamis are created and looking for ways to detect them better and faster.  Despite the sometimes weak connection and the pixelated image, this unusual but fascinating videoconference was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the tenth edition of the United Nations Seminar Series in Geneva which explored the linkages between disaster risk reduction and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Young people are the reason for which this seminar series exists: it is a channel for the United Nations Office at Geneva and its Information Service to speak to the youth on the most pressing issues and challenges, and to deepen their understanding and knowledge of the United Nations system and what it does to address those challenges.  And this year, the youth replied massively: more than 120 university students from Geneva, Lausanne, Basel, Italy and even Georgia, attended the seminar, setting a new participation record. 

The seminar took place on 12 and 13 October at the Palais des Nations and was jointly organized by the United Nations Information Service in Geneva (UNIS) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).  Together with experts from a range of UN agencies, academia, Permanent Missions, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, the participants explored the issues of risk and risk reduction, learning in the process that “disasters are not acts of God, but a function of human agency” (Marc Gordon, Head of Sendai Monitoring Unit at UNISDR), and that there is a lot we can do to reduce their impacts and costs.  On the programme also environmental issues and hazards, exposure and vulnerability, and, of course, the human costs of disasters: how the lives, livelihoods and wellbeing of people are being affected by migrations, epidemics, or conflicts at the root of which we can see slow-onset hazards or gradual processes such as desertification, drought or sea-level rise.

Protecting people, planet and prosperity from disasters will be a significant item on the agenda of future leaders; having the youth that is aware, knowledgeable, and engaged today is a guarantee of action by the leaders tomorrow.  Bocar Sy, a doctoral student from the University of Geneva and a participant in the seminar, is one of the young people who has turned his knowledge and awareness into concrete action - he works with communities to collect data and evaluate the risks of floods in Dakar, Senegal.

And finally, parting words and a call to action by Robert Glasser, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction: "There are huge needs that are becoming more and more important and we need people like you to face these challenges, at any level, local or international.

UNIS Geneva- Amna Smailbegovic