The International Kick-off Conference in Yangon held on 18 March 2016 in the Function Hall of the Myanmar Engineering Society (MES) Building in the Hlaing University Campus had three sessions. The first session featured the signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies (GSGES) of Kyoto University and the three partner organizations in Myanmar, namely, the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), MES, and the Yangon Technological University (YTU). Representatives of the four organizations gave their welcome remarks. The first session ended with all the conference participants posing for a commemorative group photo.
The second session consisted of four keynote speeches. Dr. Kenji Okazaki, Project Leader and Professor in the Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies (GSGES) of Kyoto University, explained the background, objectives, goals, participants, and implementation methodology of the project. He mentioned that this project is one of only two projects chosen by the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), Tokyo, Japan out of more than 60 applicants to its Grant for Global Sustainability (GGS) initiative. The pilot projects in Kathmandu, Nepal and Yangon, Myanmar are envisioned to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals and to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Prof. Okazaki emphasized that the local stakeholders should be the ones to manage the project through the local platform as they are the ones most concerned about their own safety and resilience. The external partners are only there to provide support and encouragement. To illustrate this, Prof. Okazaki shared the experience of Tijuana City, Mexico in the RADIUS Project (1996-1999). Although the RADIUS Project ended a long time ago, the stakeholders in Tijuana continue to meet monthly up to this day because the local people were involved from the very beginning of the project and saw the relevance and benefits of the project to the city and its local communities.
Dr. Carlos Villacis, the Regional Program Manager and Strategy Coordinator of the Italy-based Global Earthquake Model Foundation (GEM), introduced GEM, its guiding principles, the public and private organizations supporting it, the countries where it has activities, and the typical components of a GEM project. He also showed some of the tools that GEM developed, such as the OpenQuake platform, which has the potential of harmonizing seismic hazard databases worldwide. GEM is sharing these tools to empower local stakeholders to be involved in understanding and evaluating their own risk, in keeping with the motto of GEM: “Working together to assess risk.”
U Saw Htwe Zaw, Secretary of the Myanmar Earthquake Committee (MEC), presented about the earthquake risk in Myanmar. Exposure to earthquake hazard has increased due to rapid urbanization, population growth in cities, and reduction of open spaces, among many factors. He shared that a few ways of reducing vulnerability to earthquake would be to strictly implement the building code to new engineered buildings; to conduct a visual inspection of existing buildings and determine which ones need retrofitting; and to promote disaster risk reduction education for those using non-engineered buildings so that they can assess their risk and act accordingly. He also shared some of the current activities of MEC.
Dr. Ramesh Guragain, Deputy Executive Director of the National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal (NSET), talked about Earthquake Risk Management in Nepal, about the damage caused by the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake, and about the GGS pilot project in Kathmandu. He also mentioned how NSET worked hard in lobbying to have some basic building data included in the population census conducted by the government. Because they succeeded, building stock statistics will now be regularly updated. For the GGS pilot project, NSET is now coordinating with the stakeholders in Karyabinayak Municipality and Lalitpur Sub Metropolitan City on the creation of local participatory platform and on the schedule of succeeding workshops. The GGS pilot project was launched in Kathmandu in January 2016.
In the third session, the participants were divided into three groups. Each group was assigned a facilitator and discussed the following two topics:
Topic 1: Implementation Opportunities and Challenges
- How do we organize and maintain a local participatory platform for urban disaster resilience? Should there be separate platforms at the city level and the township level?
- Who should be invited to participate in the local participatory platform? Please list the potential participants. How will they be invited and how can we keep them interested and engaged in the next two years and beyond?
- What are the planned and on-going city, township, and ward activities and organizations where we can integrate this current urban disaster resilience project?
- What will be the main challenges in implementing this two-year project successfully?
Topic 2: Risk Assessment and Action Planning
- How can we ensure that our risk assessment is comprehensive (integrating physical and socio-economic aspects) and multi-hazard? What significant hazards should be addressed in addition to earthquake and cyclone?
- How can we ensure that decision makers and the public (the community members) are involved in the risk assessment and the action planning?
- How do we raise public awareness of the process and result of the risk assessment and the action planning?
- There will be two workshops to be conducted before August 2016. These workshops are related to the formation of the local participatory platform and the risk assessment and action planning. Can we agree on when these workshops will be held to ensure high participation?
After the group discussion, a representative from each of the three groups gave a presentation on the summary of their discussion.
It is hoped that through the activities of the international kick-off conference and in succeeding workshops the collaboration among different stakeholders in Yangon will be strengthened and they can work together in enhancing the disaster resilience of their city.