Symposium seeks to reduce Canada’s vulnerability to disasters

With experts predicting a flu pandemic on the horizon, York Professor David Etkin says Canadians need a comprehensive disaster reduction platform – an item that will be high on the agenda at an upcoming disaster-management symposium co-organized by York.

Right: David Etkin               

The second Annual Canadian Risk & Hazards Network (CRHNet) Symposium, taking place Nov. 17-19, will work towards creating a Canadian platform on disaster reduction to submit to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, allowing Canada to join the many other countries of the world that have already achieved this goal.

“Canadians are more vulnerable to natural disasters than they could or should be,” says Etkin, CRHNet co-chair and coordinator of the Professional Certificate Program in Emergency Management in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies – the first Emergency Management program to be offered by an Ontario university.

The symposium, being organized jointly by the Canadian Risk & Hazards Network and Atkinson, will look at long-term actions to reduce the vulnerability of Canadian communities.

“Canadian communities need to begin to increase their resilience. There’s this misnomer of the ‘natural disaster’, which implies that human tragedy is the fault of nature. In fact, events like Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in South Asia do not become disasters without human complicity – without humans creating vulnerability of where and how they build their homes, businesses and other critical infrastructures,” Etkin says. “These hazards only become disasters when they intersect with vulnerable communities in a way that overwhelms their ability to cope.”

Building on its successful inaugural event in 2004, the CRHNet Symposium will bring together national and international scholars, researchers and practitioners in a multi-disciplinary partnership for the sharing of risk knowledge, practice and policy information in the Canadian context. Presenters will lead participants through case studies, the financial aspects of disaster management, and discussion of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Asian Tsunami.

Canadian and international experts in disaster management will speak, including York alumna Mary Otto-Chang (BA ’83, MES ’86), a consultant with the UN Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction based in Geneva, Switzerland. She will speak at a plenary session with former federal cabinet minister Herb Gray, Chair of the Canadian Section of the International Joint Commission. This session will focus on the creation of a Canadian Platform on Disaster Reduction.

Prior to the symposium, participants will visit one of Ontario’s great mitigation successes on a tour of the Toronto Region Conservation Authority’s flood and erosion control sites. This optional field trip is meant to provide some insights into the relationship between urbanization and watershed degradation.

The symposium will take place at the 89 Chestnut Street Conference Centre in downtown Toronto.

For more information, visit the Canadian Risks & Hazards Network Symposium Web site.