International Council for Science: natural disaster mitigation initiative

Recognising that scientific
research has ‘not lived up to its full potential in addressing some of
society’s most pressing concerns’, the International Council for
Science (ICSU) has announced a strategic plan to strengthen science for
the benefit of society.
The plan focuses on supporting
interdisciplinary science in key areas of uncertainty, such as
sustainable development, the impact for human behaviour on planetary
processes, and mitigating the impacts of natural disasters such as the
recent earthquake in Southern Asia, the Indian Ocean tsunami and
Hurricane Katrina.
‘Scientists need to do a better job of communicating what they know to
world leaders, but they also need to find out what information those
policy makers would find useful,’ says ICSU President Jane Lubchenco.
‘The tsunami and Hurricanes Katrina and
Rita have demonstrated the devastating consequences to people and
property of the removal of natural storm surge barriers such as
wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs,’ she continued. ‘When coastal
development ignores scientific information about the critical
protecting functions of these ecosystems, people are at greater risk.’
The new strategy is based on expert reports and consultations carried
out by scientists and scientific institutions across the world, and
builds on the ICSU’s current programmes to coordinate environmental
research, protect scientific freedom and improve access to data and
Elaborating on the disaster mitigation
initiative, Gordon McBean, head of the ICSU scoping group on this
issue, said: ‘We can’t actually stop hurricanes or tsunamis or other
extremes of nature. But if we bring together the right mix of research
– work that integrates such disciplines as engineering, climate, health
and social sciences – and find a better way to plug these insights into
the policy making process, we can avoid a lot of unnecessary human and
economic losses.’
If the initiative is to be effective,
according to Dr McBean, it must address two particular challenges.
First, research is needed to discover why natural disasters appear to
be on the increase, and to identify human activities that can aggravate
or mitigate their effect.
Second, scientists must address a
perceived problem of communication: ‘We have found a lot of evidence
that policy makers may at times act in ignorance or simply disregard
relevant scientific evidence of what’s needed to prepare for or prevent
devastation from a natural, predictable event like a hurricane,’ said
Dr McBean. ‘We need to find new ways to communicate science to decision
makers so that they understand how to integrate scientific evidence
into their political and policy processes.’
With this latter goal in mind, a key
component of the disaster mitigation initiative will focus on linking
scientific advice to end users, such as local, regional and national
governments, development agencies and humanitarian organisations. The
ultimate goal, according to the ICSU, is to establish an international
collaborative research and communications programme that will last for
a decade or more.
For further information, please consult ICSU
(Credits Cordis

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