On 13 October, PSI salutes the first responders and frontline workers who give so much to help others. These firefighters, emergency medical technicians, health workers and a range of other professionals spend untold hours training and preparing to protect our communities, to save people and reduce suffering. Because of their commitment, emergency workers put themselves in danger, leave their families to work under the most dangerous conditions imaginable.
PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli says: “The UN system is right to focus on reducing exposure to disasters. These disasters can wipe out years of development work, leaving families and communities destroyed and impoverished. Most countries need more investment in prevention, and in ensuring that emergency workers have the tools and training to do their jobs. So we encourage all governments to recognize the risks assumed by emergency workers”.
But there is still another point which has to be stressed. Emergency or disaster response is largely conducted by public service workers, yet the international community focuses almost exclusively on volunteers.
“This is an anomaly that must be fixed if we are to improve local capabilities to reduce exposure to disasters. In this direction, we call attention to the ILO Guidelines on Public Emergency Services which can provide valuable guidance to policy makers.”
Alone in 2018, one need only look at a range of disasters where emergency service workers have been called out to save people and protect communities. Regrettably, the list is not exhaustive, and does not include conflicts:
- Wildfires in Greece, Sweden, Portugal, USA, Canada, and more
- Drought : Cape Town South Africa is the most visible, but many regions are affected, including notably Australia
- Floods, mudslides: Japan, Kerala state, India
- Hurricanes, cyclones : Florence and Michael in the USA; Mangkhut Philippines; cyclone Josie Fiji
- Earthquakes (tsunamis; mudslides; earth liquefaction, etc.) Indonesia (twice); Papua New Guinea; Hualien Taiwan
- Volcano : Mount Fuego Guatemala
This same week, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivered a special report on the state of global warming. This report says that we should not go beyond the 1.5°C limit set in Paris and warns that a 2°C rise will have dire consequences, worse than anticipated even a few years back.
The IPCC special report on global warming deserves more in-depth consideration as regardless of which actions governments agree, our communities need to adapt to more extreme weather events. This means that we must prepare for more disaster, train and deploy more emergency workers.
Pavanelli still reminds that “regrettably, we are seeing attacks not only on workers’ rights, but on community activists. In the UK, protesters have been jailed for opposing shale gas fracking, in Germany it is protesters blocking the proposals to mine coal in the Hamback forest. Around the world, those who stand in the way of corporate profits are criminalised and repressed. So there is an urgent need to unpack the links between corporate profits, climate chaos and emergencies and disasters”.