Toespraak van Prinses Margriet bij de opening van het Centre for Disaster Resilience in Enschede

De toespraak is uitgesproken in het Engels.

Commissioner, Mr Mayor, dear ITC community, students, staff, alumni, all you watching from around the world, It is a privilege to address you on this festive occasion! My heartfelt congratulations for your 70th anniversary !!!!!

The Red Cross and disasters: the general perception is that the two of them are intertwined. Indeed, the Red Cross comes to the rescue of victims of disasters and conflicts. The poorest people in the poorest countries are usually most hit, people that have contributed least to their cause. We know that natural disasters have multiplied over the past decades and so have the number of victims. We know too that many of these are recurring disasters. We are fighting a running battle…in facing.. the natural calamities of today and tomorrow. Yet the proverb says: prevention is better than cure! But people don’t always act on this! 

I am not here as an academic but as someone who has seen the impact of too many disasters during my many years in the Red Cross. Natural hazards occur inevitably, but how to prevent them to become full scale humanitarian disasters?... By setting out to mitigate the damage. We have to move from react to proact. That entails a different approach. Changing mindsets has been - and still is – quite a journey. My journey too, that is the aim I pursue…

Some 20 years ago the Red Cross Movement managed to get climate change on the international agenda as we moved away from the conflicting political discussions by focusing on the humanitarian consequences of climate change. In 2002 the Netherland Red Cross set up the (Red Cross Red Cresent) Climate Centre. Its aim was to predict natural disasters better, investigate their causes and their interrelation in order to find 
adaptations to mitigate the damage. It does so through combining science and practice. The Climate Centre serves all the national Red Cross Red Cresent societies in the world. 

Another milestone is 2007, as the world finally acknowledged that climate change is one of the main challenges for humankind. This took place at the International Red Cross Red Cresent Conference, where governments and the national societies meet every 4 years. In 2011 a fund was established by the NLRC on the basis of the experience of the Climate Centre in order to act upon disaster risk prevention. It was a treasured fare well gift carrying my name when I stepped down from the RC Board. The aim is: Disaster Risk Reduction, Preparedness and Prevention. (risk prevention is contagious in our marriage😊)

Gradually we have seen a trend to shift towards disaster preparedness and risk reduction instead of just emergency relief - but not enough action was (nor still is) taken.  Sure, we recognize the progress made but we need to do more, to pro-act instead of react. And indeed that’s what the Fund sets out to do. We work on the principle of a holistic approach. It is not a stand-alone problem that we need to tackle. I’ll come back to that.

A broader perspective is needed in order to learn the root causes of risk – including its connection to weather related calamities like heavy rainfalls or floods, mudflows because of deforestation, heatwaves, bad use of land, increasing drought, to name a few. The consequences of all these are numerous. Such as refugee flows, immense material damage, epidemics, loss of livelihoods, increased poverty, and migration.

Back to the holistic approach! It is quite simple, yet not nearly enough implemented. As a start: it is imperative to involve the people of at-risk locations in the preparations of recurring disasters. We analyze with them the main risks and issues. They are: Early warning, evacuation plans, check dams and bridges, safe houses, safe schools – combined with shelters, un-interrupted water supply, basic hygiene, adaptation of the environment such as terrace agriculture, afforestation, adaptation of crops, income-generating projects, … all this - working with the locals so they become independent and can cope with the risks. It boosts their resilience and creates a feeling of ownership. 

We help them to help themselves. I give you an example: In Haiti where floods and earthquakes alternate people in remote areas have to be self-reliant. But deforestation and destruction of their livelihoods as a consequence of these disasters make them extremely vulnerable. Together with the locals we planned building check dams and a whole system plan for saving water and planting trees and crops. The dams were built by themselves in a human chain up in the hills with local material. An earthquake-proof shelter and school, serving many purposes, was built. When the first hurricane struck, no damage was done, the locals stayed safe as well as their livelihoods. 

After the recent earthquake our project was saved again! , with hardly any damage and no loss of life. In Bangladesh we have been successful on a larger scale, saving thousands of lives. And closer to home: next to the use of smartphones Austria has a “Zivilschutzalarm,” with different signals for different types of disasters on 8170 locations. 

Back to my journey. In 2015, representing the Netherlands Red Cross Fund, I attended the UN conference in Sendai on Disaster Risk Reduction, where governments and NGO’s came together. Another big step in the journey towards addressing climate change and its consequences from practically every point of view.

Since 2018 the Chair on Climate and Disaster Resilience was offered to me by the University of Twente and the Netherlands Red Cross chaired by prof Maarten van Aalst. He has been my - and other people’s - tutor with his expert knowledge of science and practice on the ground. The work and efforts of the Fund have since been reinforced by bringing in geo-information. 

With the link to the faculty of Geo-Information Sciences and Earth Observation (ITC) this chair fits well with the 5 other chairs that the University already has in the field of natural disasters, risks, and prevention. Geo-information contributes to a much better understanding of the root-causes of risks. This enables the Red Cross to better prepare for calamities and to support the communities at risk. 

Even so…We are still fighting that running battle…Lately the IPCC has painted a recent and forceful picture of the consequences of climate change. 
A wake-up call that we cannot neglect! The good news is that here in the university of Twente we have found a powerful partner in the ITC.
And as from today: The Center for Disaster Resilience!  Science will help us to pro-act and anticipate better on hazards ahead. And the good news is that the ITC is well known in the whole world! With students from all over the world!

Amazingly enough not too well known in the Netherlands…. While it is such a very welcome opportunity for Dutch students too! Moreover the expertise at hand could be more then useful in our country as well, with the heatwaves and floods we have experienced. Finally: Resilience is not a stand-alone matter. It means different things to different people. It can be resilience of the soil at risk - or - resilience of the population at risk. I want to emphasize that in order to investigate risks a holistic approach and scientific knowledge should go hand in hand.. Combining forces will certainly make a difference. 

That’s what I wish for the Center for Disaster Resilience !