Disaster data is a disaster, but not for long (part 4)

A conversation with Julio Serje – UNISDR data scientist

Part 4 of 4

Whitespace: Yes, our agency was fortunate to be involved in helping you create the concept for the Sendai Framework Monitor. This was quite a complicated application to conceive, with many different roles, regional layers and reporting cycles running over a period of 15 years. Our role is to try to make the complex feel simple, but in this case, I have to say it really wasn’t easy! The technical notes were both voluminous and challenging to grasp, and a lot of business analysis was required before we could advance with prototyping.

After considerable effort by the core team, the prototype was finally revealed and user tests conducted at the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun back in June 2017. There has also been a panel of countries testing the prototype. What has been the feedback so far from the end users?

Julio Serje: We got excellent feedback from the prototype. Of course we received suggestions and questions and things, but the feedback was invaluable for learning. The prototype was so well done that some of the comments that countries gave us was, “Look, the prototype is very good, but I tried to save the data and it’s not saving the data.”

Whitespace: They thought it was the real thing.

Julio Serje: Yes, the sense of reality with the prototype was so keen that countries were actually expecting that the data that they were entering was to be saved. Of course, we had to explain them, “No, look, this prototype is only a mock-up. It doesn’t actually have a database behind it; it’s just a tool that you can test; it will help us learn what we should build.” So yes, we got comments like these from countries that went deep into the prototype and tested it and they were actually expecting it to work.



Whitespace: How are you going to help the different member states get the most value out of this monitoring system? Because as we mentioned, it is quite complex and in some cases some countries are less advantaged than others in terms of resources for data collection and reporting.

Julio Serje: The monitoring of Sendai requires a relatively complex system with many indicators. Countries will have to mobilize their own institutions and get them to collect data. It will require a lot of effort from countries – we are aware of this. We are preparing a whole strategy to support countries to make this a reality. We know that countries will need capacity; the countries will need training.

Our strategy has several pillars. One pillar is a communication strategy and this has already started. Together with you at Whitespace, we built a prototype and we exposed it to member states and we got feedback from them. On the one hand, the user testing was helpful for refining the prototype. But perhaps even more importantly, the prototype became part of our communication strategy to make countries aware and to have ownership of what we’re doing. When users participate in the design process, they are more likely to adopt the final product.


User testing of the Sendai Framework Monitor prototype in Cancun - June 2017

User testing of the Sendai Framework Monitor prototype in Cancun – June 2017


The second pillar of the communication strategy is a capacity building exercise. Training is the key. UNISDR is working with partners such as the Global Education and Training Institute (GETI) in Korea on “training the trainers”. We are also working with the Asian Disaster Prevention Center in Thailand, and we expect to work a lot with UNDP so we can actually have a global reach.

Whitespace: There’s the tie-in between disaster risk reduction and development right there.

Julio Serje: Exactly. UNDP is a very large institution, it’s the biggest of the UN agencies by the way. They have offices in almost in every country of the world. We have to work together on this in order to achieve scale.


Let me be very clear about something. If we don’t address the disaster risk reduction issue now, the impacts of disasters, especially climate hazards, will be absolutely overwhelming. (Julio Serje)


Whitespace: Let’s fast forward 15 years when the Sendai Framework reporting cycles have come to a close. What do you see?

Julio Serje: Well, I believe that the trend of reducing mortality risk will continue. I hope that fewer people, at least in relative terms, will have to die because of natural hazards. Climate change is creating a lot of uncertainty right now, because we are only just starting to see what’s really going to happen with this planet. We probably will face a situation in which we’re doing much better in disaster reduction and reducing losses, but there may be factors that could counteract our efforts. Maybe the level of economic losses will continue to increase.

But let me be very clear about something. If we don’t address the disaster risk reduction issue now, the impacts of disasters, especially climate hazards, will be absolutely overwhelming.

Whitespace: Doing nothing is not an option.

Julio Serje: Precisely. We know that we will continue to have children, the population will continue to grow, and our societies will continue to expand. So exposure increase will continue to be a factor. I hope that if we work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, smarter development will lead to better lives and safer and more resilient communities.

This has to be seen not only from the Sendai Framework perspective – it’s a matter for the international community as a whole. We have to act and continue acting, and not become discouraged by large-scale disasters. 15 years is still very short. But again, if we do nothing, the impact of disasters is going to be much worse.



Haven’t read Part 1 yet?