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The United Nations General Assembly decided in 1989 to celebrate an International Day for Disaster Reduction, every 13 of October, ‘to promote a global culture of risk-awareness and disaster reduction’. We are still in the midst of the climate-intensified hurricane season in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, which demonstrates the vulnerabilities of small island states and coastal communities, as well as the misguided deregulation and frenetic growth as seen in Texas.
Says Rosa Pavanelli, PSI General Secretary, “Governments at all levels must have the tools – legislative, regulatory and financial – to protect all people living in their territories. Weaker governments are not the answer to better disaster reduction. And, all levels of government need to recognise the crucial role of their emergency workers – those professionals called on to leave their families and to head into the most dangerous areas to save lives and reduce damage. These workers deserve not only respect, but protections, including the rights to join unions and negotiate terms and conditions. These workers must constantly improve their knowledge and training if they are to be effective in the response work, including guiding and overseeing volunteers and specialist NGOs. Without these professional emergency workers, the toll in injuries and deaths is inevitably higher.”
PSI calls on the United Nations to shine the light more clearly and directly on the work of these public professionals, especially in vulnerable regions. They are too often taken for granted, including in the Sendai Framework and within the UN agencies working on disaster reduction. PSI is working with the ILO to prepare the 2018 Experts Meeting to Adopt Guidelines on Decent Work in Public Emergency Services, and will use the outcomes at all levels of government to protect our members and allow them to do their jobs safely and professionally.
Says Ms. Pavanelli, “I don’t understand how we can ask emergency workers to risk their lives to save others and not give them the tools to do their job. As well, climate change is bringing more extreme storms, wildfires and epidemics, so we must equip even more public emergency workers to fight to save lives. Wars and terror are also causing untold casualties, including among emergency workers. Governments ask these workers to make the ultimate sacrifice, without according them basic human rights. This has got to change. We must not just celebrate the heroes after they are killed or injured. The most important is to equip them ahead of time, have them working in communities, to really anticipate and thus prevent loss of life and injury. PSI Congress at the end of October will make this one of our priorities, across the globe.”