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Masters of the Universe

Terry Gibson, GNDR Operations Director Terry Gibson, GNDR Operations Director
Having attended the GAR 2015 report launch and the GAR for Tablet app that allows for colourful infographics and visualisations of disasters and impacts, Terry Gibson felt we are still "surrounded by dinosaurs" who talk about 'natural disasters'. But no disaster is natural, only weather events are. And while we "still hear people talking as if the only disasters of concern are the large scale events", says Terry, GNDR's "own data, GAR's and others' shows that a large majority of disasters are small scale, recurrent, resulting from the complex interaction of many factors." The knowledge everyday heroes hold of the everyday disasters they face "is the missing piece without which big data and 3D visualisations won't make a difference to the billions of people most affected by disasters."

[by Terry Gibson | 3rd WCDRR Sendai | 15 March 2015 | Day 2]

The UNISDR Global Assessment Report 2015 (GAR 2015) was launched this lunchtime at Sendai, after events in New York and London. It's an impressive report, partly reflecting the generous budget for its production, and it makes important points, particularly that disasters are often a consequence of development rather than an external factor which holds it back. As part of the launch, the 'GAR for Tablet' (GfT) app for apple and android was launched, allowing you to swoop across the earth and watch the progress of massive typhoons and other disaster events. Never, it seems, have we known more about disasters. As I write, people are presenting the methods they use to build national disaster databases that produce colourful infographics of disasters and impacts. Growing databases of disaster information are available at the touch of a button.

It's tempting to think that once you've downloaded GfT you could just press a button to alter the course of a tropical storm, or drag a pointer to change the weather patterns leading to a flood. Then we would indeed be masters of the universe. As it is, everyone agrees that we often look on impotently when faced with these huge forces and their impacts. Disaster databases are important, but on their own they are not driving the change. Our colleague Adessou had been in a session on this theme and had spoken to say we need to get personal, look at peoples' lives and livelihoods and the everyday disasters which evidence shows are felt by people to have the greatest impact on their lives. Buh Gaston and I had been in a session with scientists where we presented the Frontline programme briefly to make the same point. It's becoming clear that our slogan 'Reality Check' is really at the heart of the matter because we need to do better than creating impressive 3D interactive visualisations of disasters. A reality check demands climbing down from remote unearthly 3D vantage points and scientific ivory towers to understand what creates the threats that people face and attempt to take action against.

Sometimes it seems that, rather than being surrounded by masters of the universe we are surrounded by dinosaurs. Even though in the GAR room it is clearly recognised that we need to understand and act on small scale threats resulting from many factors, we still hear people in other events-scientific and technical- referring to 'natural disasters'. No disaster is natural. We still hear people talking as if the only disasters of concern are the large scale events we can visualise in 3D; yet our own data, GAR's and others' shows that a large majority of disasters are small scale, recurrent, resulting from the complex interaction of many factors.

Our 'Reality Check' campaign and our Frontline programme are about Everyday Heroes, not Masters of the Universe. The knowledge everyday heroes hold of the risk profiles they face, predominantly those of everyday disasters, is the missing piece without which big data and 3D visualisations won't make a difference to the billions of people most affected by disasters. If you've followed this blog so far you'll detect a theme. Time for a Reality Check!

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