From the Sandoz chemical spill of 1986 in Schweizerhalle, Switzerland, to the rupture of a dam storing mine tailings containing cyanide in Baia Mare, Romania, 2000; and last year in Beirut, the explosion of ammonium nitrate stored in warehouse near residential areas, what these chemical and industrial accidents have in common is their devastating impact on people and the environment and that they could have been prevented.
Not only countries but also organizations need to work together to prevent accidents and reduce disaster risks now and in the future. Today, UNECE, OECD and the European Union, together with Slovenia and Norway, kicked off the European Forum on Disaster Risk Reduction (EFDRR) (Matosinhos, Portugal and online, 24-26 November 2021) doing exactly that: cooperating to share knowledge, good practice on Preventing another Sandoz, Baia Mare or Beirut accident: Perspectives on risk management in the context of the Sendai Framework.
Co-moderated by Dmitry Mariyasin, the Deputy-Executive Secretary of UNECE and Ricardo Mena, the Director for UNDRR in Geneva, the session combined perspectives on how to manage risks of technological incidents and natural hazards, notably at the transboundary level.
Governments, research institutes and private sector stakeholders that face these risks in countries of the European Union, South-East Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, showed the potential to learn from good practice examples of integrated risk management governance. Governments and the private sector have worked together in the transboundary region of Moldova, Romania and Ukraine, testing how the three countries can cooperate to respond to an industrial accident with possible transboundary consequences, using safety guidelines published by the UNECE Industrial Accidents Convention.
At the same time, participants stressed that more needs to be done to reduce the risks of chemical and industrial accidents occurring. In particular, discussions emphasized the need for both more coherence among different policy areas related to risk management and a better understanding of multi-hazard risks such as a natural hazards triggered technological risks (Natech) – closely related to managing the effects of climate change. UNECE helps countries manage technological disaster risk, for example through the development with partners of UNDRR Words into Action Guidelines on man-made/technological hazards, and supports countries in its implementation through work under the Industrial Accidents Convention.
The session, which builds on the MoU between UNECE and the European Investment Bank, also underlined that existing legal and governance frameworks (such as the UNECE Industrial Accidents Convention, Water Convention and Aarhus Convention, but also the Sendai Framework, OECD programme on Chemical accident prevention, preparedness and response and relevant EU legislation such as the Union Civil Protection Mechanism) have the ability to integrate and contribute to multi-hazard risk management strategies, if implemented at a larger scale.
The discussions concluded that while cooperation to increase preparedness and response capacities in countries, regions and at the transboundary level remains essential to strengthen the safety and resilience of chemical and industrial installations, prevention must be placed at the forefront of policies and resources. A concrete step towards prevention of chemical and industrial accidents is to integrate technological risks into transboundary, national and local disaster risk reduction strategies.
At EFDRR, the Roadmap towards accelerated implementation of the Sendai Framework 2021 - 2030 will be discussed and developed before being presented for adoption. At today’s discussion, the first recommendations on accelerated implementation through increased prevention of industrial and chemical accidents were heard loud and clear. UNECE has contributed to the preparation of roadmap, as well as the forthcoming Regional Assessment Report for Europe and Central Asia, drafting a chapter on technological disaster risk management in close cooperation with EIB and the EU Joint Research Centre.
UNECE and its partners will actively participate throughout the Forum: Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova will address the Forum’s Ministerial Roundtable on 25 November; and the Deputy Executive Secretary will deliver a keynote address at the plenary session on the EFDRR roadmap (26 November, 9.00-10.30 CET).
The European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction is a recurrent platform that enables policy-makers and experts to exchange the latest information on disaster risk management in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. This year’s Forum focuses on the need to address the systemic, cascading and compound nature of risks, while putting the spotlight on the COVID-19 pandemic and climate emergency.