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Princess Anne appeals to UK's engineers to aid disaster relief

Princess Anne has called on engineers with specialist skills to step up and assist efforts to mitigate the impact of natural and manmade disasters.

Speaking as honorary president of engineering disaster relief charity RedR, Princess Anne called on water and project management specialists to get involved in efforts to better prepare aid workers for urban disasters.

“Time and time again, we see the impact of having the key people with the right skills in place in the first few hours after a disaster strikes,” said Princess Anne. “There is a lot more we can do to make use of the expertise that is out there.”

RedR is running a three-year project, funded by Lloyd’s Charities Trust, to address skills gaps in the humanitarian sector for delivering aid in urban environments.

RedR’s research has concluded that it is now statistically more likely that disaster response will be an urban matter, in light of the fact that world’s population is now mostly living in cities.

For example it found the skills most in demand in the  Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan were those more associated with urban disasters, even though the area impacted was largely rural.

RedR pinpointed skills shortfalls in a report published last week, chiefly in water and sanitation – partly resulting from the greater scale and complexity of supply systems in cities – and in project management.

The report also highlights how professionals are needed with the ability to design and construct buildings that are capable of surviving disasters, as well as those able to assist with effective disaster risk reduction.

Princess Anne urged professionals to come forward, and RedR will be looking to select and train individuals with relevant skills for deploying to cities whenever disasters strike.

The organisation will also be looking to recruit 50 private sector experts to join its technical support service, a panel of experts able to offer advice to those on the ground via email and telephone.

“In the past year, RedR has trained nearly 8,000 people in 84 countries across the world,” said Princess Anne. “But we really are looking to the future. We are combining engineering skills, aid expertise and new skills which save lives.

“We have already pinpointed where the shortfalls are and now we are moving forward to give people on the ground a much better chance.”

Princess Anne also stressed how such work was only possible with continuity of funding, and urged supporters of RedR to help even out peaks and troughs in its funding pattern. Donations to aid agencies tended to peak in the immediate aftermath of disasters, but then dip significantly in periods with few disasters in the news.

“We do need continuity of funding,” she said.

Somerset Levels response questioned

Princess Anne has called into question the disaster preparedness of Britain’s infrastructure operators in the wake of the winter storms.

Speaking at an annual reception for patrons of engineering disaster relief charity RedR, Princess Anne said Britain was not as smart as it thought it was when it came to mitigating risk from disasters.

“Clearly it is not the same in terms of the scale of the humanitarian disaster, but in spite of all the skills and knowledge and infrastructure we have, it has still been very hard to get people on the Somerset Levels back to their homes,” said Princess Anne. “And then to see some parts of the country cut off by rail, well, maybe we’re not the advanced country we thought we were.”

Princess Anne said she accepted that the failure to make our infrastructure more resilient was not entirely down to engineers or infrastructure operators, but she stressed
how it made the country appear ill-prepared. 

“I know these decisions have not been made by engineers. They have been made elsewhere,” said Princess Anne.

“But if it happened anywhere else, we might be saying to those countries how really silly you have been to leave only one access point.

“Perhaps underlying this is that the key is being properly prepared.

“Preparation is the only way to prevent the worst from recurring and we certainly should be able to do that.

“These facts apply wherever you are – whether you are on the Somerset Levels, in the Philippines or in Pakistan.”

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