About the Author: Maria Otero serves as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs. As Under Secretary, she oversees U.S. foreign policy on democracy, human rights, population, refugees, health, environment, trafficking in persons, and Tibetan issues.
The devastation of a major earthquake is almost unfathomable. But as one of the cities that top the list of those most vulnerable to earthquakes, Kathmandu must contemplate the reality of such a disaster and determine how to reduce the risk to its people.
As I walked the streets and alleyways of Kathmandu this weekend, I saw firsthand the vulnerability of the city's shops, apartment buildings, and offices, and thought of the haunting pictures we saw this past year from Haiti, Chile, and Pakistan. Unfortunately, we often don't think about such vulnerabilities until the pictures of destruction flash before our eyes.
The symposium I spoke at this week in Kathmandu, "Be Aware, Be Prepared: Implementing lessons learned from other earthquakes," aims to change that by raising awareness of Nepal's vulnerability to a catastrophic earthquake and, most important, to examine practical steps that can be taken now to minimize injuries and loss of life. The event, which was hosted by the Government of Nepal in collaboration with the U.S. Government and the United Nations, demonstrates our joint commitment to disaster risk reduction and highlights lessons learned from other disasters.
Disaster risk reduction is not something that any government can undertake on its own. We must strengthen coordination regionally and across sectors. India and China will play important roles when a major disaster strikes Nepal -- both as first responders and as potential victims themselves. We must also work closely with the private sector, both locally and internationally to help mitigate risk.
Technology and innovation can provide high-impact, far-reaching solutions to disaster preparedness. For example, we can employ online mapping technology that is fueled by text messages from victims of disasters, so first responders know where to go and when. As demonstrated in Haiti last year, such technology provides low-cost life-lines to those affected in the wake of catastrophe. Such smart applications and investments will undoubtedly save lives in Nepal's next earthquake.
The shift from disaster response to risk reduction requires a change in mindset. We must move from the present to the future and toward collaboration and innovative thinking for game-changing solutions.
You can find more about Under Secretary Otero's travel here.