Environmental Factor, January 2010, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Dearry Represents NIEHS and NIH in Copenhagen
By Eddy Ball
As high-profile talks by politicians and demonstrations in the streets took center stage at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) at the Bella Center in Copenhagen Dec. 7-18, hundreds of scientists, including Allen Dearry, Ph.D.,(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/od/deputy/osim/index.cfm) of the NIEHS Office of the Director, shared their data and projections in meetings and seminars held outside the range of the spotlights and cameras.
As part of his visit to Copenhagen as NIEHS representative, Dearry made a presentation Dec. 11 at the U.S. Center at COP15 (http://en.cop15.dk/) as the NIH member of the U.S. National Science & Technology Council Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction (SDR) (http://www.sdr.gov/). Dearry's talk, titled " Maximizing Public Investment: Disaster Risk Reduction Meets Climate Change Adaptation," presented a compelling case for enhancing disaster resilience by charting a 10-year agenda of science and technology activities to produce a dramatic reduction in the loss of life and property from natural and technological disasters.
Climate change will impact public health and public safety
Dearry's presentation drew attention to the impact of Hurricane Katrina as one example of the human health effects of natural disasters and paralleled the findings of NIEHS-supported climate change health studies published in The Lancet just before COP15 (see story(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2009/december/spotlight-climatechange.cfm)). Both helped to reinforce the NIEHS message that climate change has important public health implications. Mitigating climate change can produce important public health co-benefits that will help offset the costs of intervening as quickly and comprehensively as possible.
As U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sibelius said when The Lancet papers were published, "We are learning that the health of our planet and the health of our people are tied together. It's difficult for one to thrive without the other."
Climate change presents " grand challenges" for disaster risk reduction
Near the beginning of his talk, Dearry referred to the U.S. presidential science advisor, John Holdren, on the need to take a proactive role in developing adaptation strategies to meet the extreme events scientists expect as a result of climate change. Dearry pointed to what the SDR identified as the " grand challenges" ahead:
- Providing hazard and disaster information where and when it is needed
- Understanding the natural processes that produce hazards
- Developing hazard mitigation strategies and technologies
- Recognizing and reducing vulnerability of interdependent critical infrastructure
- Assessing disaster resilience using standard methods
- Promoting risk-wise behavior
Efforts to make the world more disaster resilient
As Dearry explained, scientists and policy makers committed to disaster resiliency continue to gather resources and information, such as that available through PreventionWeb (http://www.preventionweb.net/english/) as part of the Hyogo Framework - a 10-year global blueprint for disaster risk reduction efforts during the decade 2005-2015. The blueprint, adopted by 168 countries that met in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan, offers guiding principles, priorities for action, and practical means for achieving disaster resilience for vulnerable communities.
The goal of such disaster resilient efforts, Dearry concluded, is three-fold - to help communities at risk understand the hazards they face and know when an event is imminent, minimize property losses and lives at risk in future natural hazard events, and ensure that disaster-resilient communities experience minimum disruption to life and economy after a hazard event has passed.