Averted Disaster Award 2023

Special Recognition

Prepared International (PPI)

The Professional Dialogue:

Strengthening Cross-Border Cooperation through Disaster Diplomacy

The current war activities between Israel and the Hamas underlines how crucial it is to find ways to save lives across conflict lines and support the civilian population. The “Professional Dialogue on emergency preparedness and lifesaving between Jordan, Israel and Palestine”, also known as the “Professional Dialogue”, is a unique disaster risk diplomacy scheme aimed at strengthening cross border disaster preparedness and response coordination in the Jordan, Israel, and Palestine (JIP) area with the end goal of saving and protecting lives. This intervention has significantly impacted the disaster-prone area and the conflict-affected communities in JIP, by utilizing the principles of disaster diplomacy to foster collaboration and address the unique challenges of the region.

Origins and Goal

The project was founded in 2013 by the Director of Prepared International (PPI) – a expert group founded by members of the humanitarian emergency management field to support communities – Dr. Albrecht Beck, while working for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). Dr. Beck started the negotiations in 2011, a time in which communication between the three emergency management systems was almost non-existent. These efforts translated into a series of bilateral training courses, kindly facilitated by Dr. Beck on behalf of UN OCHA, which initiated the disaster diplomacy project to better prepare the region and international assistance for a natural hazard event in the region, specifically, a large-scale earthquake event. As statistics demonstrate, there is a strong probability of an earthquake (M 6+) to occur along the Dead Sea Fault (DSF) Zone over the current decade, and the 2023 earthquake on the Türkiye – Syrian border is thought to have accelerated the likability of such an event to happen. Ultimately, the project aims to protect vulnerable communities in the JIP region, facilitate local cooperation, and enable international teams to assist affected populations and enable response in no-man’s land. Day to day cooperation in simple accidents, as well as coordination in mass-disaster events and during conflict, are all part of the dialogue’s focus.

Focus and Achievements

The project focuses on further strengthening collaboration among the three entities in disaster preparedness, supporting regional capacity building for earthquakes and floods, and supporting the response preparedness level of the humanitarian actors on the ground. Efforts towards this end culminated in March 2023, with the conduct of a large-scale field exercise in JIP, marking a milestone during the tenth anniversary of the dialogue. It was during this time that the three local entities cooperated with one another and the international community with utmost respect, and with the common understanding that without regional collaboration no one could unilaterally respond effectively and deliver timely humanitarian assistance to affected populations. Common SOP for enabling assistance across borders in the region were agreed on. Authorities came together several times for Table-Top simulations. Most importantly, such milestone was followed up by a second agreement on further solidifying the diplomatic efforts worth a decade of time. Because of this, Prepared International thanks each stakeholder for their outstanding commitment and perseverance through all this time, and will continue to support the three parties.

Key Events and Lessons

The exercise in March 2023 provided an opportunity to gain important lessons to implement in the next phases of the project implementation.

  •   The cycle of conflict and disaster is often revered when it comes to the growing number of failed and failing states. Without strategically designed disaster diplomacy, it will not be possible to break this cycle.
  •   It is critical to prepare disaster risk experts for the diplomatic work around such projects. For diplomacy projects heavily focused on disaster risk, diplomats are not the most suitable candidates.
  •   Trust is everything. From the beginning, it is key to establish trust between all stakeholders and to prepare them to leave their comfort zones. It is helpful to have one focal point in the project, with one line of contact who can organize, manage the project and see the big picture, just like PPI has done for the Professional Dialogue

·   Finally, the best way to approach such a project is through a two-ways approach: top-down and bottom-up. Bringing together high-level personnel, who accept and learn to trust the project, and operational personnel, who work on the field level and cooperate with other stakeholders, is beneficial in reaching all levels of governance.

Promoting Cooperation and Understanding

This disaster risk diplomacy intervention allowed for developing a sense of mutual understanding and cooperation, thus enabling international teams to reach the Palestinian population during the response phase of a disaster. This milestone has provided a foundation for numerous preparedness projects in the region, since at the very beginning, most of the organizations were still “enemies”. In fact, contact was largely forbidden, which severely hindered any possibility of communication and cooperation during a disaster. Nowadays, after ten years and despite political tensions in the region, direct cooperation across conflict lines in the emergency and preparedness community takes place daily.

Disaster Diplomacy and Civil Protection Cooperation

The role disaster diplomacy played in all this in undoubted. Disaster diplomacy, at its core, is the utilization of disasters as a catalyst for diplomatic engagement, conflict resolution, and cooperation. It recognizes that during times of crises, political barriers can be transcended, and common interests in saving lives can create opportunities for dialogue and collaboration. Civil protection cooperation is the result in this case, of diplomatic efforts. It refers to the collaborative efforts and measures taken by different governmental entities to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters, coordinating with emergency management organizations, first responders, and humanitarian organizations.

Having worked in the field of disaster diplomacy and civil protection cooperation for years, PPI became a leading promoter in the fields. With a deep understanding of the complexities surrounding disaster management, PPI offers expertise in various areas, including civil protection, disaster diplomacy, climate change activities, violence and conflict resolution, food security and health. The organization’s comprehensive approach encompasses strategic planning, risk assessment, capacity development, policy development, investment plans, and more. PPI recognizes the significance of disaster risk diplomacy as a crucial aspect of its work, understanding that effective disaster management goes beyond technical solutions. By integrating disaster risk diplomacy into their projects, PPI aims to foster collaboration, dialogue, and cooperation among diverse stakeholders, including governments, international organizations, and local communities. Especially now, in times of climate-change, professional, well-planned disaster diplomacy and work in fragile and conflict-striven areas is getting more important than ever. The current situation in the Middle East even more shows the need for professional approaches, but also for donor support for it.

Albrecht Beck, Managing Director of Prepared International, Disaster Risk Diplomacy Expert

Antonia Vignolo, Project Officer in Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation