Our Perspective

crisis prevention and recovery

Can data better focus risk reduction strategies?

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Monsoon rains and tropical storms bring terrible flooding to Cambodia, but lighting strikes rank as the second highest cause of mortality in disaster-related deaths. Photo: OCHA/Andrew Pendleton

It’s widely known that floods are a major cause of mortality in Cambodia. Nearly 53 percent of total disaster-related deaths between 1996 and 2013 were caused by recurring floods. What’s less well-known is that during the same period, 35 percent of disaster-related deaths were due to lightning, the second-highest cause of mortality in Cambodia. Understanding the impacts of disasters, their frequency, intensity and recurrence patterns are key to addressing them systematically. In Cambodia, such analysis has been possible with the use of data provided by CamDi (Cambodia Disaster Loss and Damage database), an online system established by the National Committee of Disaster Management in partnership with UNDP. In July 2014, CamDi, with English and Khmer interface, was launched by the Government of Cambodia and an analytical report was shared with all line ministries and provincial agencies, as well as with the donor community, international non-government organizations and other relevant groups.   I remember my initial consultations and discussions with the government and stakeholders. At the time, we were largely focused on flood-related issues, and lightning, seen as an isolated event, went unmentioned. Exhaustive disaster data collection, however, revealed the team the severity of the impact of lightning on the lives of... Read more

Good governance for disaster recovery

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Heavy rains in Haiti's northern city of Cap Haitian left streets, homes and fields flooded and hundreds of people homeless and up to 15 people dead. Photo: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

In 2007, when I began my career with UNDP in Ecuador, I thought I knew the ins and outs of disaster recovery. I had the technical background as a civil engineer, researcher and professor of earthquake engineering. A year after starting at UNDP, a major challenge arrived: intense and concentrated rains battered Ecuador’s entire coast for four months. Thirteen provinces were reporting major damage, with some urban centers remaining under water for two months and landslides closing roads and leaving many communities completely isolated. Two percent of the Ecuadorian population was affected, with damages accounting for nearly 2.5 percent of the country’s GDP that year. I received a crash course in the complexity of recovery. Before a single shovel could hit the ground or a brick laid, dozens of meetings and consultations had to be held and dozens of plans formulated. While we had created a recovery strategy based on four pillars (social, productive, infrastructure, and environment and sanitation) and three cross-cutting elements (institutional reform, community participation, and land use and planning), we still had to implement an extremely complex, comprehensive recovery plan: arranging and channeling funding; establishing ad-hoc implementation bodies; putting line ministries and regional development entities in charge of... Read more

Technological hazards: From risk reduction to recovery

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Chernobyl exclusion zone in the town of Prypiat, Ukraine. Most of the Chernobyl-affected areas suffer from high unemployment and poverty, while residents suffer from victim syndrome, a dependency culture, and lack the information. Photo: UNDP in Ukraine

This past December marked the 30th Anniversary of the Bhopal disaster—3,000 people were killed and another 170,000 injured when a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, leaked chemical substances into the air. Regarded by many as one of history’s worst industrial accidents, Bhopal remains a horrific reminder of risks we continue to face today in an ever-industrializing world. According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, 192 technological disasters were reported worldwide in 2013.  Technological hazards are expected to grow as urbanization and industrialization spread, and as climate change brings increasingly unpredictable threats to technological infrastructure. To date, no global agreement is in place for preventing and preparing for technological disasters. While there are a number of regional and sectoral frameworks, as well as mechanisms and policies to address various types of technological disasters, we lack an overarching framework that is equipped to address the sheer complexity of issues and diversity of actors involved. The post-2015 framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) offers a unique opportunity to address precisely this, and it gives us a real opportunity to strengthen national coordination and legislative frameworks, and to expand the capacities of all stakeholders for all risks, including technological ones. If... Read more

Inside UNDP: Iman Al Husseini

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Iman Husseini briefing the Administrator, during her visit in February 2014, on infrastructure projects in Gaza. Photo: UNDP/PAPP

1. Who are you? I was raised with my two brothers in Kuwait. My father used to tell me when I was young: ”Since you are in the middle of your brothers you are the best, as the best bead in the necklace is always in the middle.” My family was a great support and driving force for me in my career. It is part of my nature to always challenge myself. 2. What do you do for work? I am a Programme Specialist at the UNDP Gaza Office, heading the infrastructure team that implements a variety of projects in sectors such as housing, water, sewage, job creation, energy, health, and education. 3. Where were you before? I started my career as an assistant site engineer at a large consultancy office in Kuwait.  As a woman, I was not used to climbing walls or trees or walking on wood beams in construction sites.  Being one of five pioneer female engineers working for the company, the resident engineer was counting on my failure to leave the site.  I took up the challenge, killed my fears, and trained myself with the site supervisor’s help. Upon my return to Gaza, I joined UNRWA in... Read more

Building on the Pacific’s culture of resilience

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In Samoa, the problem of coastal erosion and inundation directly impacts people’s livelihood. (Photo: Joe Hitchcock and Luke McPake for UNDP)

When I first arrived in Samoa in 1998, I lived on the larger, less populated and more traditional island of Savaii, where things were ordered and everyone filled a very particular role. For example, to build a canoe, I first needed to find a tree, get permission from a local chief and go to the plantation to cut it down. Then a canoe builder for that area was commissioned and a small dedication ceremony was required before the canoe went to sea. Over time I came to understand the organization of life in Savaii, and how that organization was, in fact, the community’s foundation for resilience. After a cyclone, for example, the community sends young men to gather the fallen coconut for safe drinking water and specific root crops that heavy winds have not damaged. In my 13 years working on climate change and disaster risk management in the Pacific, I have learned that the foundation of resilience for these communities is their culture and way of life. Unlike many in international community, who see climate change and disaster risk management as two separate issues, these communities experience them as a single issue that reaches across all aspects of life. The... Read more

Bigger cities don’t have to mean bigger risks

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An aerial view of the city of Sehwan Sharif in Pakistan's southern Sindh Province, which was heavily affected by countrywide flooding in 2010. (Photo: Amjad Jamal/UN)

The majority of the world’s population is urban, and it’s easy to understand why: Urban settings often offer better economic opportunities and better access to essential services (such as healthcare and education), as well as a wider variety of entertainment and leisure options. But urban environments are also uniquely vulnerable to disasters. Many towns, cities, and urban sprawls stand in coastal zones, on riverbanks, or in mountains– settings that are exposed to geological and hydro-meteorological hazards like earthquakes, storm surges, and cyclones. In addition, rapid urbanization often brings poor land use planning, unsafe construction practices, and damage to natural resources (like waterways and mangroves). Urban centers can suffer from ‘intensive risk,’ because a large number of people, facilities, services, and assets are condensed in one place and at risk of substantial losses and damages from a disaster. As the world becomes more and more urbanized, urban risk reduction becomes more and more of a necessity. The post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction, which will emerge at the upcoming UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, can help elevate this concern at the highest levels and push for disaster risk reduction to be built into urban planning and development.... Read more

How can we save the world’s forests?

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Clearing forests is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Borjomi Forest in Georgia. Photo: UNDP

The crucial role of forests in tackling climate change is high on the agenda this week at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Conserving the world’s forests is critical to climate change mitigation. While forests absorb carbon dioxide, when cleared or degraded they become a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Over 13 million hectares of forests are still being cleared each year. That’s an area around three times the size of Switzerland. This destruction is contributing up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and threatens our common future. With a global climate agreement scheduled to be finalised at the Paris Climate Conference at the end of the year, keeping up the momentum on forest conservation is essential. We also need to maintain and build upon the progress made last year, including at the UN Climate Summit in New York hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in September, in the COP 20 “Lima Call to Action,” and through the deforestation-free supply chain commitments made by many corporations. I was proud to be involved in the Climate Summit’s forests action area, which UNDP facilitated and which saw the launch of the New York Declaration on Forests (PDF). This process... Read more

Inside UNDP: Lionel Laurens

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Lionel in Freetown.

Lionel Laurens, from France, is a development practitioner who has worked for UNDP for 10 years.  He’s driven by a desire to contribute to a more equal world by working with people to be in control of their own development in their own environment. 1.    What do you do for work? I’m currently the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Immediate Response Coordinator for UNDP in Sierra Leone. I help reprioritize our activities in innovative ways to respond to the crisis by reaching out to the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in society and creating partnerships with these groups to raise their awareness of Ebola and adopt safe behaviours. 2.    Where were you before? I started working for UNDP in Lao PDR with the National Rural Development Programme. After that I worked in Afghanistan managing the National ABD Programme and in Iraq, first managing the Local ABD Programme, and then a sub-cluster of programmes covering poverty reduction and MDGs, essential service delivery, inclusive growth and private sector development. 3.    What types of assignments do you do most frequently? I spend a lot of my time working with programme teams, government counterparts, communities and other key stakeholders to develop a shared vision, formulate strategies... Read more

Adaptation and attitude are two keys to crisis response

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Sierra Leone has begun to use new, environmentally-friendly sterilizing equipment to help dispose of the vast amounts of contaminated protective equipment and infectious waste generated in treating Ebola patients. (Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP)

I came to Sierra Leone in July 2014 on a temporary assignment as Area Based Development (ABD) Advisor, but when I arrived the Ebola outbreak had reached an unprecedented scale and the delivery of UNDP’s regular programmes was low priority.  UNDP, as a development agency, was not seen as particularly relevant or equipped to deal with a humanitarian crisis.  But UNDP had programmable resources, a strong network of relationships with government and other stakeholders, and a strong desire amongst the staff to help their communities confront Ebola.   A lot of my work at UNDP has been developing and implementing programmes in creative ways and having that experience helped during the Ebola crisis.  I helped the Country Office to reprioritize our activities in innovative ways to respond to the crisis. We reached out to our partners and marginalized groups to identify useful interventions that were in dire need. We then reprogrammed UNDP’s work to build on our existing programmes and relationships to address key issues for those not yet reached by existing prevention activities. As a result of this we have been able to: Work in partnership with local partner NGOs and government to train 300 volunteers and communities on Ebola... Read more

Five years on, Haiti builds back better

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(Photo: UNDP/Haiti)

Five years after the earthquake that devastated the country, Haiti celebrates major development gains while acknowledging that immense challenges still remain. In spite of the political and structural fragility, social and economic progress is evident. Like many countries, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have galvanized positive action in Haiti. The country has steadily boosted the net enrollment rate in primary education from 47 percent in 1993 to 88 percent in 2011 and achieved equal participation of boys and girls. The number of underweight children under five years old has been halved, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS has stabilized, and nearly 70 percent of households now have access to an improved source of water. Clearly, however, much remains to be done. Six million Haitians (60 percent of the population) still live on less than $2.50 a day. And while women head almost 50 percent of households, they hold only 4 percent of parliamentary seats. Deforestation and the loss of biodiversity are also continuing challenges, and the condition of poor urban slums, which house at least 62 percent of city dwellers, remains worrisome. Yet, despite these challenges, Haiti’s progress must be commended. First, this progress takes place in spite of the devastating 2010 earthquake... Read more

Ebola: Recovery needs to start now

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A worker poses for the camera at a dressing station in Freetown, Sierra Leone. (Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP)

The social and economic impact of the Ebola crisis will be felt up to a decade after the disease has been eradicated. In Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, virtually every sector has suffered as a result of the epidemic. For example, based on UNDP’s most recent estimates, Liberia could experience negative GDP growth for the first time since the war ended 11 years ago, reaching -1.8 percent. In all three countries, air traffic is down, mining and palm oil concessions have been badly affected, and so have farming and small trade, crippled by quarantines and movement restrictions. The crisis is impairing the ability of governments to raise taxes and invest in infrastructure and social services. For instance, more than 800,000 women will give birth during the next 12 months. But with the severe shortage of health facilities and professionals, compounded by the fear of getting infected in a clinic, many could die without proper care. Millions of children are out of school because their classes have shut down. Whereas life before Ebola was starting to improve following years of crisis and political conflict, people are now struggling again with uncertainty. Besides the personal loss, the immense majority are finding it difficult... Read more

Lessons from the past help to prepare for the future

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We have seen that involving communities in the recovery process brings special commitment and speeds up recovery. UNDP Photo

In China there is an old proverb that goes: “If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.” Helping countries better deal with disasters has long been part of our mandate. But that objective took on new urgency following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Since then we have worked closely with governments in Asia and the Pacific to try to better protect communities, and provide those at risk with early warnings about approaching disasters. We have drawn on our  experience and encouraged South-South cooperation, for example, by facilitating a visit of experts from the Indonesian government – who managed the Banda Aceh reconstruction – to the Philippines so they could share expertise and ideas. These types of exchanges, support, training, and education have had an impact. Most recently, in the case of Typhoon Hagupit (Ruby) - while not as strong as Haiyan – preparedness and planning was reported to have played a vital role in saving lives, when the typhoon made multiple landfalls on the East coast of the Philippines. In recent years we have witnessed, when cyclones and storm surges have hit-... Read more

Collaboration must be at the heart of climate action and sustainable development

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UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visits a fair organized by the Small Grants Programme of the Global Environment Facility and UNDP at the COP20 in Lima, Peru. (Photo: UNDP/Peru)

We have unprecedented opportunities – now and in 2015 – to strengthen co-operation on tackling climate change. On the one hand current climate change talks in Lima should advance negotiations on the new global climate deal, to be agreed in Paris at the end of 2015. On the other hand, discussions are currently taking place at the UN in New York for a “post-2015” development agenda, in which tackling environmental degradation will be prominent. Also, at Sendai in Japan next March, the UN 3rd World Conference on Disaster Reduction will address issues directly related to adaptation to climate change. These are crucial opportunities, since climate change poses a pressing challenge for advancing poverty reduction in developing countries. Also, the most recent report by the international scientific advisory panel on climate change, known as the IPCC, reminds us that the poorest and most vulnerable people bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change. Meeting this challenge head on will require collaboration across the public and private sectors and the full engagement of civil society and indigenous peoples. From my work as Administrator of UNDP, an organization which supports more than 140 countries to design and implement their own solutions to climate... Read more

National finance helps Asia-Pacific lead the way on Climate Change

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With UNDP's support, rural residents in Bangladesh now have the resources and capacities to build back better and become resilient in the face of environmental threats. Photo credit: UNDP Bangladesh

A vital round of United Nations climate change negotiations is underway in Lima, Peru, from Dec. 1-12. This marks a significant milestone for the crucial Paris Summit on climate change that is a year away. At the climate talks in Lima, climate finance will again be at the forefront of negotiations and key in reaching a new global climate agreement. Initiated at the Secretary General’s Climate Change Summit in September, pledging towards the Green Climate Fund almost reached $10 billion. So far, countries in the Asia Pacific region have received a quarter of all global public climate finance. India and China are the largest recipients. Nineteen dedicated climate funds and initiatives have approved more than $2 billion for projects in the region, since 2003. With many countries in Asia Pacific at the frontline of climate change, bolstering resilience of low lying deltas and small islands, and reducing emissions from fast industrializing nations is a good investment. While this international financing is crucial, for it to have a sustained impact and leverage the investments needed it is also important that planning and budgeting systems are revisited through a climate lens. With the support of the United Nations through the Poverty and Environment... Read more

Ebola: How the rumour mill can churn out fact instead of fiction

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A resident of Waterloo, an Ebola virus hotspot, gets first hand prevention information from one UNDP-supported community volunteer. Photo: H. Uddin/UNDP Sierra Leone

Ebola spreads fast and rumours even faster. In a crisis where information means the difference between life and death, the rumour mill is not helping to end the outbreak. Everyone has a theory about Ebola; some claim they know how to stop it, most claim to know where it came from. Most of the theories contradict reality and serve as a roadblock to eradicating Ebola, like false cures or where donor money is spent. Sierra Leone is a story-telling society, but word of mouth is the best form of communications, particularly when more than 60% of adults are illiterate. In Sierra Leone, secret societies, tacit ethical codes and centuries-long traditions rule the roost. So when some people speak, the country listens.   With this rumour mill comes potential. We, and other UN agencies, NGOs, the Government of Sierra Leone and other stakeholders have made messaging the core of our work. Whether it’s going door-to-door, erecting giant billboards or handing out flyers, getting the right message to everyone is not just about exposure, it’s about trust. Our Ebola community messengers go through their own communities, and speak face-to-face, ensuring they are heard loud and clear. If not, their blue overalls with 117,... Read more

Meaningfully reducing disaster risk requires borderless efforts

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A boy looking at an eroded canal in Jalal-Abad province, Kyrgyzstan. Credit: Kairatbek Murzakimov/UNDP

It is fair to say that disasters, whether natural or technological, are not limited or restrained by borders. Floods, storms, environmental degradation and the ramifications of industrial or radiological waste affect multiple countries at once when they occur. National and local efforts to prepare for this, while necessary, are simply not sufficient or efficient. The reality, however inconvenient at times, is that regional threats require an equally regional effort to prepare and respond. Preparing communities along a river or waterway for possible flooding should not stop simply because of a political boundary; efforts, therefore, must be made to integrate and coordinate actions for optimum results. This understanding is quickly taking root in the Central Asian region; between 1988 and 2007 at least 177 disasters affected the region, causing more than 36,000 deaths. In 2000 alone, at least 3 million people regionally were affected by droughts that caused serious economic losses. Looking ahead, the threat of climate change means that weather related disasters may only increase in severity and frequency. Equally as threatening, though thankfully rare, is the threat of technological or industrial disasters stemming from aging but critical infrastructure, such as dams, irrigation nets and uranium mines. Reducing and managing these... Read more

Against all odds: Egypt's fight against Climate Change

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Residents of Alexandria enjoy the seaside in Egypt. Photo credit: Dylan Lowthian/UNDP

It’s less than a week to COP20, the UN climate change summit where nearly 200 governments will meet in Lima, Peru. This is an important opportunity for the global community to make progress on a universal and meaningful global climate change agreement, to be agreed in Paris in 2015. Reaching an agreement is often a hard process, but if everyone is committed to it we can break through. Egypt is one example. The Nile delta is the richest farmland in Egypt. It is fascinating that, while it covers only 5% of the total area of the country, it is home to 95% of its population. But this beautiful area dotted with tourist sights and industries faces a harsh reality: Coastal erosion caused by sea-level rise threatens low lying lands and has a direct and critical impact on the country’s entire economy. In 2010, we started working on coastal protection, with a grant from the Special Climate Change Fund.  Our project promotes the idea that we should work with the sea rather than trying to fight nature. “Living with the Sea” became our strategy, as we aimed to strike a balance between protective, hard, infrastructure such as seawalls, and reinforcing the protection... Read more

Ebola - a disease of poverty

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Motorcycle drivers in Monrovia sit on the side of the street, after a ban on motorcycles left them jobless. Due to the Ebola crisis, they can’t find any work. Photo credit: Morgana Wingard/ UNDP

Recently, I visited Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to better understand the needs of these countries as UNDP helps them deal with the Ebola crisis.  In travelling from Conakry to Monrovia to Freetown, visiting communities and talking to government officials, including the Presidents of Guinea and Sierra Leone, and the Vice President of Liberia, I have seen that Ebola is now testing every aspect of the social fabric. Ebola is shaking institutions and challenging leaders, civilians and medical experts alike.  It is undermining the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and exacerbating poverty and inequality. Everywhere this disease strikes, it is the poorest, living their difficult and deprived lives in Africa’s slums – often among animals, garbage and fumes – who are most vulnerable to this disease. Many of the political leaders I met during this trip cited poverty as the cause of the disease’s spread, and economic recovery as the most pressing need for a long term solution, together with the emergency response to the epidemic.   This message will be repeated today in Washington, at the Global South-South Development Expo. There, people from across the globe will discuss poverty eradication with a special focus on responding to Ebola as... Read more

Protecting development requires an ambitious, actionable framework for disaster risk reduction

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Participants receive training on disaster prevention in Puerta Plata, Dominican Republic to protect the people and infrastructure of the municipalities of the province. Photo credit: Benjamín Pérez Espinal/UNDP Dominican Republic

This week, representatives from Member States, civil society, the UN and the private sector are meeting in Geneva to continue work on a Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. This Framework, a successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), will shape how national governments and the international community undertake disaster risk reduction and resilience building for the next 20-years. Given its longevity and (hopeful) impact, a great deal rests on making this Framework as strong and efficient as possible. I would like to offer a few recommendations: First, HFA2 must recognize that disaster risk is first and foremost a development concern. While hazards, such as floods, are a given in the world we live in, whether or not that flood turns into a full blown disaster really depends on the quality of development that’s been undertaken. HFA2 must acknowledge this fact and ensure that the actions it recommends clearly enable risk-informed development.   Second, climate change is going to seriously exacerbate the threat of disasters; we must therefore see this as a game-changer in disaster risk reduction. HFA2 should position itself as a disaster risk roadmap, clearly complementary of any future climate change activities. Like many agencies and partners UNDP... Read more

Shared commitment and collective action are key in fighting corruption

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UNDP in Sudan Organized a Drawing Contest with the Faculty of Fine and Applied Art, University of Sudan as part of an Anti-corruption campaign. Photo credit: UNDP/Sudan

This is a call to action, a call against a cancer, a call for health and a call for integrity. In the fight against corruption, everyone has a stake. Businesses, large and small, require an enabling environment to support growth, jobs, trade, and innovation. Only bad business thrives in an atmosphere of traffic of influence, access to privileged information and widespread bribery. That’s the businesses afraid to compete because they can’t win fair and square against the competition. All other businesses, the medium enterprises, the startups, the big ones, the innovators, those who play by the rules need a state to enforce such rules. So the question is: are you afraid to compete or are you happy to play the integrity game? In the midst of increasing pressures on public budgets striving to meet growing demand for more and better public services, the private sector presents models that are tremendously helpful to the public administration. The corporate world brings not only investment finance and capital but also normative frameworks, expertise and knowledge to the fight against corruption. Yet, despite progress, corruption continues to be a major challenge for companies operating both in developed and developing countries. According to the Institute of... Read more

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