Earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides and many other natural disasters may be things that can happen out of the blue.
But in areas that are prone to these types of events, which are often catastrophic, Carl Mercer says strategies can help alleviate the impact in developing countries.
The Butlerville native is a communications specialist with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the area of climate change and disaster risk reduction. For the past two-and-a-half years, he has travelled the globe with the UNDP, informing those in developing countries about the needs to prepare in case of a disaster. UNDP partners with over 150 countries, many of which experience considerable loss when natural disasters strike.
The 32-year-old has been a part of several projects since completing his degree in political science at Memorial University a decade ago and his masters in conflict studies and human rights at Utrecht University in Amsterdam.
His official title is Advocacy, Partnerships and Communication Coordinator, which is a mouthful but accurately represents the job he does on a global scale.
“My role is to help share the experiences and lessons learned of our country partners and to advocate for actions that safeguard development from disasters and climate change,” Mercer told The Compass last week from New York.
Travel and educate
While some Newfoundlanders have worried over this past winter that there could be a possible blackout, Mercer was travelling across rural India witnessing the struggles the locals experience there.
The regions he visited are prone to cyclones, and he was able to see first hand how these communities prepare for these storms and how they react during an emergency.
“One particular day a local women’s organization held an entire ‘mock drill’ to show us how they mobilize people to vacate their homes and take refuge in the cyclone shelter during a storm (and) half the community showed up,” he explained. “It was great to see how the work we do does indeed help people to be better prepared.”
This was the first time Mercer had been to India, and it’s an experience he says he’ll never forget.
The trip to India wasn’t just about observing. He travelled with a filmmaker for a documentary.
“The experience was both incredibly enjoyable as well as a great learning opportunity,” Mercer said. “I got to see how these videos and documentaries were made and learn a great deal about disaster risk reduction and preparedness.”
With support from UNDP, these communities have a stronger preparedness plan for dealing with cyclones.
Mercer had the opportunity to go to Sendai, Japan for the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction March 14-18.
Thousands of people took part in round table discussions, presentations and education sessions. It has been something Mercer has prepared for over the past year.
“My attention has been almost completely focused on the World Conference… and where the international community adopted a new framework on disasters called the Sendai Framework for DRR,” he said.
The document is a multi-year layout of what the international community can actively do to help with disaster risk reduction. It also lays out what the world and organization specifically have learned over the past decade.
Mercer was part of promoting the organization and giving details on what types of things it does.
“Part of my job was to create advocacy campaigns that explained what we did and to write speeches, prepare media campaigns and hold events that informed the public and policy makers as to our work,” he said. “At the conference, I worked closely with the UNPD administrator Helen Clark during her media interviews and press events.”
Clark is the first woman to be the administrator of UNPD, is a previous prime minister in New Zealand and chair the United Nations Development Group.
After a decade being involved in humanitarian work, it’s not surprising Mercer sometimes reflects on some of his previous activities.
With a year left to his degree at Memorial University, he initially thought he would attend law school. He decided to take a year off to take part in Canada World Youth and went to South Africa.
“This is where I started to feel like I could work in international development and/or foreign affairs,” he explained.
His life took a new path, eventually leading him to an internship in Ethiopia, as well as stints in Indonesia, Chad, France and the United States. He also did work in Angola, Liberia, Tanzania and South Sedan before taking his position at the UN.
Since being with the UN, he has advocated for countries affected by climate change and disasters, but believes the issue is not segregated to developing countries.
“What is clear to anyone who accepts that climate change is happening is that it is everyone’s problem, rich and poor, developed and developing alike,” Mercer said. “Climate change will impact every community and every country in the world, though to varying degrees.”
He admits it is also a problem here at home, and Canada will be a part of the new global agreement on climate change.
“In December countries around the world will meet in Paris for the (hopeful) launch of a new climate change agreement,” Mercer explained. “Negotiations are currently ongoing.”
Although he is not a part of that project, he believes everyone should be aware of climate change and the impacts of leaving behind their carbon footprint.
For more on the UNDP and what Mercer’s team is doing, visit www.undp.org.