Martin Regg Cohn Martin Regg Cohn was a key figure in the decision by the Red Cross and later the World Health Organization to bring internationally recognised disaster-risk maps to international tourism planners at the United Nations World Tourism Organization meeting in Istanbul in 1993. After analysing the risks of major earthquakes, fires, climate change and pandemics, the REDMAP study aimed to develop guidelines for planning all disaster-prone routes. Until this paper, only one-third of one percent of international tourist routes had a rapid-evacuation plan. Those countries that had not developed such plans had 43 percent higher death rates during disasters and suffered 20 percent higher per capita losses than countries with such plans. Regg Cohn conducted a consultation in the Indian state of Bihar to prove that the experience of local communities was superior to those of tourism planners, who were mostly foreigners, in developing their own evacuation plans. In a country where the average death rate from climate disasters is 4.8 per million people, Bihar has seen 8,000 deaths annually since 1991. The fact that the politicians’ plan for the Bihar road network was to break roads to rural villages and force population relocation into the towns, was no excuse for their lack of action. The Bihar project had led to the removal of almost 2,000 people from their homes and for temporary housing the government built more than 1,000 schools, primary health centres and water schemes. The Indian Red Cross and local institutions had rebuilt five schools to this day. One of the inspirations for Regg Cohn’s research was an agricultural trip that had shown him that the cultures of the three countries on the Bhutan-Bali axis —Bhutan, the Red Cross and the people of Bali —were best experienced from one side and the other from the other. With Bhutan, it was easy to see people coming together to work together rather than apart. In Bali, local people and local business owners were being invited to visit and develop hospitality businesses around the world. Regg Cohn argued that a similar model of cooperation between three countries —the governments of Bhutan, Indonesia and India —should be tried for the next pandemic. This project could take shape on three principles that are part of any effective local disaster-risk management plan. First, an evidence-based approach should be used in order to achieve the right outcomes.
Cohn explained: “We need to know the right risk profile and where is the lowest risk at any one time. Second, we need to know why we should build this kind of infrastructure in the first place. Why are you worried about a tropical cyclone, and why would you build a road that goes right over the top of it?”
A public-private project to develop, manage and maintain the RMBSA follows those basic principles.
On paper, the RMBSA will be an unassailable, high-quality project. It has been built and will be maintained by members of the project, who will contribute to its maintenance through contributions.
On a day-to-day basis, it will be a “subsidy-free zone” in which members —in particular hotels — will only have to pay when they have maintenance work to do.
“This project needs to be financially and physically self-sustaining. In developed countries, we have to be seen as working in the interests of society, but in developing countries, we have to be seen as working for the economy,” Cohn explained.
Another important element of the RMBSA is that it includes both the requirements of disaster-risk management and tourism. The tourism component has been designed to incorporate well-known tourism characteristics —allowing visitors to travel safely, quickly and with minimal disturbance.
A key tourism character has been the protection of local communities from sudden dislocations caused by public emergencies, evacuation and damage to tourism infrastructure. The RMBSA focuses on immediate future priorities for 24 international destinations, among them: China, India, Japan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam, and Pakistan.