Myriam Urzúa Venegas: 'Local governments are leaders in disaster risk reduction'

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction – Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean
Myriam Urzúa Venegas
Antoine Tardy/UNDRR

The Secretary of Integral Risk Management and Civil Protection of Mexico City has been recognized for her outstanding contribution to disaster resilience. Myriam Urzúa Venegas was awarded the first place in the 2022 Sasakawa Award at the VII Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, in Bali, Indonesia.

Ms Venegas has dedicated 40 years to building safer, sustainable, and resilient cities working with various national and local governments in Latin America. Ms Venegas is the first Latin American woman expert in the field to be recognized as a Sasakawa Award winner. She has been a strong advocate for the Making Cities Resilient 2030 (MCR2030) initiative to achieve a safer, resilient, sustainable, and inclusive region.

Under her stewardship in Civil Protection, Mexico City became an MCR2030 Resilience Hub, a recognition given to local governments committed to supporting and guiding other cities in disaster risk management, resilience, and climate action. "This recognition as a Resilience Hub gives us an immense responsibility for us to continue to keep on working in future so that all the needs of the population can be minimally met, especially with children and young people,” Ms Venegas said. It represents a possibility for the cities of our country and of the region to consider ourselves allies in this task. We are fully interested in strengthening the paradigm shift from reactive management to one with a risk management vision through accompaniment and joint work. In Mexico City we are committed to prioritizing prevention, and we invite other cities to be attentive to the Resilience Hubs. Always united we are much stronger."

The following is a more detailed Q&A with Ms Venegas.

How does the Sasakawa Award validate the region's progress in implementing the Sendai Framework?

More than validating, it seems to me that this is a call for official development assistance to prioritize risk reduction and focus on our region. We (Latin America) are the most unequal region, but we are also the one that has shown the way to address the impacts of current phenomena and future risks. In the Americas and the Caribbean region, we have four Resilience Hubs out of 14 globally: Campinas and Recife in Brazil, Medellin in Colombia, and Mexico City in Mexico. However, there are many more cities that have been carrying out a significant number of actions for disaster risk reduction and with it, progress in the implementation of the Sendai Framework.

In other words, we are already providing scalable solutions to protect our assets, environments, and territories. Progress against the Sendai Framework represents the work of many sectors in the face of the pre-existence of an unequal economic structure that also results in the persistence of poverty and the generation of vulnerabilities in our region, which causes disasters to be exacerbated. Despite this, the region is evolving and every day there is an air of progress towards equality, towards the construction a more universalist society, towards a human rights perspective in which people are at the centre of development.

What role has the MCR2030 initiative played in these advances in the region?

The MCR2030 initiative has been a space of convergence on urban disaster resilience as well as a platform to show their actions against the MCR2030 Resilience Roadmap. The recognition of the progress of some cities has motivated many more city representatives - who work day-to-day with citizens and different sectors - to prioritize disaster risk reduction and prevention.

Collaboration in integrated risk management is important for cities, countries and, of course, at the regional level. We are confident that the progress made by some will help others. The feedback will also make the respective teams stronger.

What is the role of local governments in achieving a more resilient region?

Local governments are leaders in this task and must continue to develop actions that prioritize integrated risk management in urban plans, as well as the integration of climate change into sustainable development. Building urban resilience is a task that unites all local governments. Every local government is an actor that must foster dialogue with others. We are not separate and distinct fiefdoms. The diversity of knowledge, the different capacities, the variety of experiences, and our own will allow us to add to the shared ambition of reducing disaster risk and building resilience that supports prevention.

What are the main DRR challenges facing the region in the short, medium, and long term?

The first is that risk management must be present in all entities, administrative units, and operational units. It is a work that must be considered as a cross-cutting approach. That is what Mexico City has been doing with all agencies of the city government mainstreaming the issue of risk management and civil protection. We must also strengthen governance through a participatory integration of the various sectors. In addition, we must strengthen the participation of relevant actors which in turn strengthens risk management.

Reflecting on the impact from the COVID19 pandemic, we must evaluate the present conditions and scale up our efforts guided by the Sendai Framework, supported by a set of programme indicators. We should act on all lessons so that cities are more humane, sustainable, prepared, and resilient in the face of disaster risk.

What implications will the VII Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, which has just ended in Bali, have on this post-pandemic recovery process?

We must value the space for dialogue promoted by the United Nations through the Global Platform and emphasize that resilience is the responsibility of society as a whole. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a hurtful wake-up call about what we are doing wrong in our relationship with nature and within society itself: the inequalities of the prevailing economic system translated into immeasurable figures of death and suffering, which has led us to reinforce our focus on resilience in disaster risk reduction.

We have been painfully reminded that resilience must be considered and analyzed from the perspective of the very organization of our cities and communities. As such we need to be able to identify and overcome factors that increase vulnerabilities.

For this reason, we believe that the outcomes of the Global Platform are an important reference since it allows us to find points of convergence; to agree on how to prevent disasters and to protect the lives of each and every one of the inhabitants of the planet.

Local leaders aim for resilience

During the Seventh Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, in Bali, Indonesia, between May 23 and 28, a Local Leaders Forum focused on the essential role of local governments in building resilience.

The forum highlighted how the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030) supports and enables local governments to advance the Sustainable Development Goals. The event also showcased tools, resources, and services available through the Making Cities Resilient 2030 (MCR2030) global collaboration and provided a platform for inspiring stories and practices from local governments around the world.

The Americas and Caribbean region had the following strong representation at the event: Myriam Urzúa Venegas, head of the Secretariat of Integral Risk Management and Civil Protection (SGIRPC) of Mexico City, Mexico; John Walter Pérez Bentacur, Deputy Director of Knowledge and Disaster Risk Reduction of the Administrative Department of Disaster Risk Management -DAGRD of Medellín, Colombia; María Elena Opazo Cortés, Head of the Risk Management Department and Mauricio Monroy Muñoz, official of the Risk Management Department of Pudahuel, Chile; and Fernando Gray, Mayor of Esteban Echeverría, Argentina, and current president of Mercociudades.

“MCR2030 has been a bridge for us to learn new knowledge, processes and practices as well as a platform for us to share our own experiences and lessons from Medellin to other cities in the region and globally," said Mr Perez Bentacur.

For his part, Opazo Cortés stated that "MCR2030 has become a guide to support us in our short, medium, and long term ambitions for disaster resilience.

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