WHO ARE WE?
BeSafeNet aims to present informational and educational content on major natural (geological, hydro-meteorological, biological (pandemics)) and technological hazards (dam failures, radiological emergencies, chemical emergencies) and related disasters. The information is based on sound expertise gathered from a pre-existing international network of specialized centres.
Since 1987, the centres operate in this field as a platform for co-operation between 22 countries in Europe and South of the Mediterranean under the auspices of the European and Mediterranean Major Hazards Agreement (EUR-OPA) of the Council of Europe. One of its main objectives is to reinforce and to promote co-operation to ensure better prevention and protection against hazards, risks and better preparation in the event of major disasters. Besides its intergovernmental role, the Agreement has an effective network of specialized centres spread over its 22 member states: the material presented on the BeSafeNet website stems from expertise gathered from the different fields of major disasters and management of those centres.
The continual development of the BeSafeNet website and of the Olympiad initiative is coordinated by the Cyprus Civil Defense, which is responsible for the day-to-day operations and an international Editorial Board which assures scientific accuracy of texts and support to BeSafeNet.
WHY BE CONCERNED ABOUT HAZARDS?
Natural and Technological disasters cause great human and economic losses. According to a report by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), between 1998 and 2017, geological and hydro-meteorological disasters killed 1.3 million people and left a further 4.4 billion injured, homeless, displaced or in need of emergency assistance. While the majority of fatalities were due mostly to earthquakes and tsunamis, 91% of all disasters were caused by floods, storms, droughts, heatwaves and other extreme weather events.
More recently, in 2021, the Emergency Event Database (EM-DAT) recorded 432 disastrous events related to natural hazards worldwide. Overall, these accounted for 10,492 deaths, affected 101.8 million people and caused approximately 252.1 billion US$ of economic losses. The year 2021 was marked by an increase in the number of disaster events and extensive economic losses.
Countries with developing economies suffer the greatest costs when a disaster hits; over 95% of all deaths caused by disasters and the losses due to natural disasters are 20 times greater (as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product) in developing countries than in industrialized countries, according to the World Bank.
Disasters are also a major issue for citizens of developed countries who can experience them on their own territory, e.g., the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy resulted in 308 deaths, 1500 injured persons and losses exceeding US$16 billion. Populations can also experience similar events abroad due to increased international mobility (both Sweden and Germany lost over 500 citizens respectively in the 2004 South East Asia tsunami).
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Many of the disasters (especially natural disasters) cannot be prevented but there are certain ways to minimize the risk of a disaster, in particular by raising awareness in emergency management via the BeSafeNet website.
As emergency management in all countries is based on state management systems at local, regional and national levels, but relies on accurate public awareness and knowledge of hazards, risks and prevention measures, it is essential to increase people’s awareness on :
- what types of disaster risk exist in specific areas
- what is the nature of the risk
- when it could happen
- how their consequences can be minimized.
This information should be made available to the general public directly, via teachers, medical doctors, local authority representatives, civil protection services and through other means.
WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF THE INITIATIVE?
While state emergency management systems have to deal with different contexts such as legal basis, capability, resources, procedures, etc., in each country, the correct behavior of the individual is critical to his/her survival.
The BeSafeNet initiative focuses on achieving three main goals:
- Promote a culture of safety among the population:
- Raise awareness on the implications of their actions and thinking during emergencies.
- Replace fear with a culture of preparedness
- Disseminate knowledge to multilingual societies:
- Create a common knowledge base of best experience
- Disseminate information in several languages to benefit a wider audience
- Become an interactive tool
- Open the BeSafeNet website to other users and organizations for their benefit and comments
- Enrich its content by contributions based on expertise.
WHAT IS OUR SPECIFICITY?
Many sources of information on hazards and emergency measures exist nowadays in several widely spoken languages on the internet. However, common material is rarely available in a variety of languages from the same source and that is the main specificity of the BeSafeNet initiative. It provides information to the widest audience in five languages. By surfing through the website, users will also have access to useful information and data, such as case studies, lessons learnt, material to include in school curricula as well as photos and videos.
Additionally, BeSafeNet aims to go beyond providing the online equivalent of a textbook providing useful information in an open and interactive environment in order to capture the interest of young people. Through this website, the pupils are introduced to natural and technological hazards, risk prevention, awareness-raising and action in such catastrophic events. It provides a powerful tool offering an exchange of information and communication within countries that share a similar vulnerability to disasters, to a lesser or greater extent. Moreover, school children and young people will find common ground to exchange views and ideas in their own language and get support either from each other and their teachers or from experts.
HOW CAN YOU CONTRIBUTE?
The particularity of the material presented on the BeSafeNet website is oriented not only towards final users but also towards further diffusion through other intermediaries.
As a citizen, you will have basic information on hazards and the basic actions to take, both to prevent disasters and to face them when they happen.
As a teacher, you will have the opportunity to use additional information to spread knowledge on hazards and disasters among your pupils. In some countries, no clear-cut slot is left in current schools’ curricula for such training although it could be introduced through more traditional subjects such as geography or physics.
As a student, the high-level material provided can be useful for your specific training in order to enhance knowledge of issues related to disaster risk reduction, more so as potential future professionals and decision-makers, who could consequently influence (even modestly) the resilience of societies to disasters.
ARE DISASTERS A THREAT TO HUMAN RIGHTS?
During the United Nations Human Rights Council held in 2019, it was stated that nothing lays bare inequality and discrimination like a disaster and that the failure to acknowledge human rights creates marginalized and vulnerable groups that face discrimination and exclusion. These vulnerable populations are far more likely to suffer disproportionately from disasters. Nowhere is this more evident than at the intersection of risk, climate change and human rights.
Preventing and reducing disaster risk is therefore also a means to protect and promote human rights.