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Improving prevention, response among top priorities, says Assembly President

12 April 2012

As General Assembly holds thematic debate, Secretary-General urges governments to integrate disaster risk reduction into development agendas

Faced with socio-economic fallout from increasingly frequent and severe disasters, Governments must invest in disaster risk reduction and weave it into their development agendas in order to save more lives and build a sustainable world, a top aide to the United Nations Secretary-General told a gathering on disaster risk reduction today.

“Integrating disaster risk reduction from the beginning, during the planning stage, and taking a consistent approach will ensure the best results,” Susana Malcorra, Chef de Cabinet to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on his behalf as the Assembly held a day-long interactive thematic debate on the subject. Disasters exacerbated poverty and undermined development planning, particularly poverty reduction strategies, she said, adding that the consequent risk of economic loss was increasing worldwide and seriously threatening the economies of low-income countries.

While disasters could not be eliminated, the world could reduce the risks and learn from them, she said. Common sense investments in early warning and preparedness could make a difference and save lives. “We know what works,” she said, citing good building design, proper land-use planning, public education, community preparedness, effective early-warning systems, increased capacity to respond to complex disasters and focusing on the needs and potential of women — the largest untapped resource for change.

As the international community prepared for the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as “Rio+ 20”, it should translate that understanding into action through engagement with all stakeholders, she continued. “When we reduce disaster risk, we increase our chances of achieving the Millennium Development Goals and building a truly sustainable world for all.”

Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, President of the General Assembly, agreed, emphasizing that addressing disaster risk reduction was inseparable from the broader sustainable development agenda. He said that improving disaster prevention and response was among his four priority areas as Assembly President. “To say that disasters put hard-fought development gains at risk and limit Millennium Development Goals attainment is an understatement,” he stressed, pointing out that in a short period of time, disasters could kill tens of thousands of people, affect hundreds of millions more and wipe out billions of dollars in investment. They affected all aspects of life, from educating children to ensuring food security to building peace.

“The statistics are plain, the message is clear,” he emphasized. Over the last 30 years, the risk of economic loss due to floods had expanded more than 160 per cent, while risks due to cyclones had ballooned 265 per cent in countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The percentage of people living in flood-prone river basins and cyclone-exposed coastlines had more than doubled and more than half of the world’s cities were in areas at high risk for earthquakes. The timing of today’s meeting could not be more pertinent, as it came on the heels of Wednesday’s devastating earthquake in Indonesia, he said, echoing other speakers in expressing sympathy to that country’s people and Government.

Willem Rampangilei, Indonesia’s Deputy Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare, spoke on behalf of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) Global Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction, saying disaster risk reduction was crucial for disaster-prone countries like his own. It was a top Government priority, and Indonesian officials had shifted the disaster-management paradigm from emergency response and recovery to a more comprehensive approach.

They had poured resources into disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness, and integrated disaster risk reduction into legislation and national development plans, in accordance with the 2005-2015 Hyogo Framework for Action. Indonesia was collaborating with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to create a resilient Asian community by promoting a culture of prevention, he said, adding that the Government would host the Fifth Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in late October.

Joe Nakano, Japan’s Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, said his country had become a world leader in disaster risk reduction due to its long history of earthquakes, tsunamis and other hazardous events. In the two months that had followed Japan’s most devastating earthquake on record — which in 2011 had left almost 20,000 people dead or missing and caused economic losses of $200 billion to $300 billion — disaster relief and medical aid teams from around the world had offered their assistance. In the past year, 126 countries, regions and international organizations had provided financial and in-kind help, he added.

A vital lesson learned from that experience was that if society as a whole could focus on preventive measures, casualties and damage could be minimized, he continued. Damage to buildings and structures following the quake had been “rather small” thanks to the implementation of some of the world’s most advanced seismic technology and building codes, he said, going on to describe the resilience of Japan’s bullet train system and the national rail network’s urgent earthquake detection and alarm system. By automatically directing all trains to stop safely and immediately following the quake, it had prevented severe accidents, and all affected rail lines had resumed operations within two months of the quake.

Such efforts and experiences showed that mainstreaming disaster risk reduction was vital for sustainable development and should be part of the post‑2015 international development agenda, he said. Human security — which took a people-centred approach to security for national, regional and global stability — was a key to building a disaster-resilient society, as were efforts to raise awareness about climate change, which aggravated water-related disasters and droughts. In July, Japan would host a high-level international conference on large-scale disasters in the region of Tohoku, he said.

Bob Carr, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, issuing a joint statement on behalf of several States, said today’s debate was taking place at a time of unprecedented international momentum to reduce disaster risk, with Governments, international agencies, non-governmental organizations and communities worldwide sharing the conviction that urgent, sustained action was needed to reduce the social, economic and environmental impacts of disasters. The need to address disaster risk was particularly acute in the most vulnerable small island developing States, in least developed countries and in many African States. “Disaster risk is a stark reality for most, if not all, countries, developing and developed,” he emphasized.

He recalled that the 2010 earthquake in Haiti had set that country back by many years. The nearly $10 billion pledged for the country’s recovery effort represented more than three times the total amount spent on Haiti’s development over the preceding decade, he noted. Meanwhile, the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa and the emerging crisis in the Sahel demonstrated the extent of human suffering involved when a “complex interplay of factors” led to extreme vulnerability. “We must invest in ‘no regrets’ activities,” he said, citing the importance of early-warning systems, public awareness campaigns, strengthening and enforcing building codes and protecting critical infrastructure.

He said political attention and resources must be mobilized, while key development sectors — including health, water and sanitation, food and security — should ensure that their activities and infrastructure were disaster-resilient. Urging greater international coordination on those fronts, he also called on all major cities in disaster-prone areas to enforce disaster-risk reduction measures in their building and land-use codes by 2015.

Today’s event included panel discussions on “Addressing urban risk through public investment”, and “Comprehensive action to sustainably reduce vulnerabilities”.

During the morning discussion, speakers outlined strategies, plans and investments by municipal authorities and national Governments to manage and prevent disasters, while underlining the importance of including local leaders and communities, who often had the greatest stake in reducing risk.

Speakers in the afternoon panel focused on the links between disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change, as well as the merits of adaptation in saving lives and money, particularly in the developed world. Among other things, they cited examples of sustainable land and ocean management strategies and the importance of sound scientific data management.

Panel Discussion 1

Moderated by Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, the morning panel discussion — titled“Addressing urban risk through public investment” — featured presentations by Augusto Barrera, Mayor of Quito, Ecuador; Gary Lawrence, Corporate Vice-President and Chief Sustainability Officer, AECOM Technology Corporation, United States; Fumihiko Imamura, Professor of Tsunami Engineering, Tohoku University, Japan; Gokhan Elgin, Director, Istanbul Seismic Risk Mitigation and Emergency Preparedness Project, Istanbul Governorship, Turkey; and Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

The panellists would consider the fact that no country was immune from the risk of disaster, regardless of its level of socio-economic development. Taking into account that more than half of the world’s population were now living in cities, they would also consider the critical need for urban risk management and reduction through sustainable development mechanisms, despite increasing pressures.

Mr. BARRERA said Quito, a city of 2.5 million inhabitants with a well-preserved historic centre designated a World Heritage site, grappled with significant risk for disaster due to its topographical make-up. It had suffered a significant earthquake in 1987, and its last four winters had been the coldest in 40 years. Recent landslides, floods, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, coupled with man-made threats, had negatively impacted its citizens. To cope with such stresses, municipal governments, the closest to a city’s inhabitants, must give top priority to disaster risk management and reduction strategies as well as funding for such efforts, he stressed. The Mayor’s Office had done just that, by replacing its emergency and assessment responses to disasters with a more strategic, horizontal approach led by a security and risk secretariat that coordinated the response while controlling the efforts of everyone from firemen to sanitation workers.

He went on to say that his Office had also established a disaster risk management emergency fund. A total of $20 million was invested in emergency mitigation activities, including $1.2 million to relocate 1,000 affected families, and significant funds to improve sewage, drainage and water systems. In 2004, the city’s first ever study on the vulnerability of essential infrastructure such as schools and hospitals had been carried out, he said. In recent years, disaster awareness and response training had been held at some 800 schools and colleges. The recent earthquake experiences of Haiti, Mexico and Santiago de Chile illustrated the need for governmental regulation of and control over infrastructure construction, he noted. However, such policies could be unpopular with real estate developers, who did not want checks and balances.

The Mayor’s Office had taken steps to delineate the city’s perimeter in an effort to discourage makeshift slums on its outskirts while encouraging the containment of unplanned, unregulated growth. Moreover, it had involved about 200,000 people in eight emergency tests of early-warning systems in schools and other areas. When police and fire departments participated in drills, they were better prepared to respond when disasters occurred, he said. “It seems key to us to include all players, including citizens, when building your capacity to respond.” But such efforts could only succeed if backed by adequate funding, he said, stressing the need for national Governments to decentralize disaster risk reduction budgets.

Mr. IMAMURA listed three key points in addressing urban risk. First was the need to know risk, he said, pointing out that it had been known that northern Japan’s earthquake-hit Tohoku region was prone to quakes and tsunamis. Historical data suggested that a seismic cycle with a big earthquake would be repeated every 40 years, with the plate accumulating and releasing energy, he said, going on to explain that the March 2011 earthquake was an event that would occur once in a 600‑1,000‑year cycle in terms of frequency. Scientists had failed to predict an earthquake of such scale due to a lack of historical data going back centuries, he said.

Taking up his second point, he emphasized the need to reduce risk. Tohoku and Japan stood out as leaders in disaster risk reduction and preparedness, but the 2011 tsunami had overcome the seawalls and inundated cities. Now was the time to evaluate measures carefully, he said, pointing out that a breakwater in the city of Kamaichi was believed to have reduced the impact of the 2011 tsunami by 50 per cent and to have delayed its arrival by six minutes. However, building such structures entailed huge costs and much time, requiring a cost-benefit analysis. Turning to his third point, he said that in order to live in the shadow of inevitable disaster, stakeholders must make cities resilient through various measures, such as assessment and monitoring of risk. The International Research Institute of Disaster Science at Tohoku University was leading studies in that field to help post-disaster urban reconstruction.

Ms. KIRABO KACYIRA said that addressing urban risk through public investment and measurable resilience targets was “a generational opportunity that we must not miss”, adding: “When it comes to ‘Rio+20’, we either make it or we lose it.” The world was urbanizing faster than ever before and in areas that were often more vulnerable to risk and disaster, she noted. When well planned and well implemented, urbanization acted as a key driver of development, economic growth and socio-economic transformation in many countries, but it was also a key producer of risk, disproportionately affecting the urban poor. However, sustainable urban development was possible, she said, stressing that the key was building resilience through better planning, more focused public investment and inclusive governance that empowered local governments and communities. She recalled that, as Mayor of Kigali, Rwanda, she had learned early on the importance of strategizing disaster risk reduction priorities to make the best use of scarce and shrinking financial resources, thus avoiding failure.

“We should not just be engaged in a reactive, short-term manner,” she emphasized. “We must also work around sound planning and equity issues. We have to make plans simple enough so that people can own them and unleash their potential.” Resilience and risk responses must engage everyone around the same table, from the public at large to the private sector and local governments. Since addressing urban risk might require relocating people, it was important to be aware of their needs and of how communities were being sustained and supported. Poorly planned urban growth increased the risk of hazards and of informal urban slums concentrated along a city’s periphery, she cautioned, saying it was important to create a “balance sheet” adaptable to all cities that placed the full range of “assets” against the full range of risks. UN-Habitat was currently developing an urban resilience index and moving the planning process to forward-looking targets rather than palliative risk reduction measures, she said.

Mr. ELGIN noted Turkey’s exposure to disasters, including earthquakes, floods and landslides, and said that 70 per cent of its population lived in seismically active areas. In past disasters, communications had failed, leaving elected officials in decision-making positions, such as governors and mayors, isolated from each other. Rescue activity had been chaotic and resources for relief efforts scarce.

A single devastating earthquake could wipe out one year’s worth of economic growth, he said, pointing out that Istanbul had shifted its approach to disaster risk reduction from “reactive” to “proactive”. The latter enabled sustainable development, he added. Among efforts undertaken in Turkey were the creation of an emergency communications system, the establishment of two institutions dedicated to disaster risk mitigation, the renovation of schools and hospitals, as well as training for civil engineers and other stakeholders. He also stressed the importance of sharing research results and experiences.

Mr. LAWRENCE said that his company, a global provider of professional technical and management support services, worked to manage risk everywhere. The key to its success was its ability to recruit and retain the best talent and to enable employees to work on projects that mattered to the future of their communities and families. Enabling staff to work on different disaster risk reduction projects maintained the company’s competitive edge, he said, adding that enabling them to solve difficult problems in building resilient urban systems with less money was vital, as most local governments around the world were either broke or close to it. The point was not to try to beat nature, because in the end, nature always won, he said, stressing that engineers and planners should instead focus on managing and reducing risk.

Employing building methods and materials that made structures more resistant to earthquakes so that they did not collapse instantly was crucial, he said. The point was to get essential infrastructure, particularly hospitals and emergency centres, up and running as soon as possible after a disaster struck, he said, pointing out that his firm had a robust corporate social responsibility policy that was part of its efforts to build a good reputation — an important concern of shareholders. Money that might otherwise go to profit was being funnelled into problem-solving. For example, the firm awarded research grants to technical universities so they could improve their ability to resolve urban planning and resilience issues. It also provided pro-bono technical assistance to the World Business Council on Sustainable Development and other organizations. The firm was also a member of Engineers without Borders, which collaborated with local partners in designing and implementing sustainable engineering projects to support community-driven development.

Following those presentations, the panellists responded to delegates’ questions.

Mr. BARRERA, discussing ways to relocate a disaster-hit community, stressed the importance of fostering trust between local authorities and the communities they served, citing the difficulty of moving families that did not trust political leadership. It was also vital to relocate whole communities, not just a house or two, because their relationships had been built over 30 to 40 years. There was a need to subsidize relocations and support displaced victims in transition periods of living in temporary shelters before moving to a new community. “Families could collapse during the transition period,” he cautioned, emphasizing the importance of supporting women, who were the anchor of nuclear families.

Ms. KIRABO, describing the best way to engage local authorities in disaster risk reduction efforts, underscored the importance of consistent and systematic methods, such as holding meetings with them and keeping them in the loop through electronic platforms. Setting measurable targets and celebrating milestones achieved would also be of great help.

Mr. ELGIN, explaining how to convince high-level officials to invest in disaster risk reduction programmes, highlighted the effectiveness of project staff dedicated to disaster risk reduction.

Mr. LAWRENCE, asked how best to incorporate the views of local people into national strategy and policymaking, said someone representing the disaster risk reduction agenda must be present at meetings where policy and strategy were discussed.

The reprehensive of Nepal, speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, called for international support in the form of funding and technology transfer, among others, in implementing disaster risk reduction plans, since least developed countries could not fulfil their plans without it.

The representative of New Zealand echoed the sentiments of many other delegates in emphasizing the need to invest in disaster risk reduction. “Disasters happen. We can’t prevent them, but we can invest in lessening exposure to their risks,” he said.

Also speaking were representatives of Algeria, United States, Singapore, China, Italy, United Kingdom, Tajikistan and the European Union.

Panel Discussion 2

Ms. Wahlström moderated the afternoon panel discussion — titled “Increasing resilience to disasters through climate adaptation and risk reduction” — which featured panellists Saber Hossain Chowdhury, Member of Parliament from Bangladesh; Angus Friday, Senior International Climate Policy Specialist, World Bank; Barbara Carby, Director, Disaster Risk Reduction Centre, University of the West Indies; Ibrahim Thiaw, Director, Division of Environmental Policy Implementation, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); Melchiade Bukuru, Chief, Liaison Office, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification; and John Schneider, Group Leader, International Geoscience, Australia.

Mr. CHOWDHURY said disaster was not an isolated event, but a pattern. Over the past 10‑15 years, disasters had caused the rate of wealth erosion to exceed that of wealth creation, he noted, adding that a main challenge was translating knowledge into action. In the early 1970s, disasters had claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh, but that number had declined to several thousands today, he said, noting that 85‑90 per cent of disasters were linked to climate. Urging the political leadership to understand the link between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, he said that rather than viewing the two as separate, they should see disaster risk reduction as setting the stage for climate change adaptation.

He went on to describe how his country was confronting the melting of Himalayan glaciers, which caused flooding in the short term and water shortages in the long term. To address that issue, a project had been undertaken to dig soil from river beds so as to increase capacity to handle water, while using the soil to build embankments. Two aims had been achieved in that project, he said — disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. He also stressed the importance of distinguishing between symptoms and diseases, describing disaster as the former and greenhouse gas emissions as the latter. “Nature will not continue to give us wake-up calls, we need to wake up,” he emphasized, pointing out that disaster risk reduction was missing from negotiations on sustainable development when it should be a mainstream issue.

Mr. FRIDAY said there was evidence of a “vicious cycle” in which a particular country’s lack of development created vulnerability to disasters. Until its devastation by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, he said, his own country, Grenada, had been thought to be below the hurricane line in the eastern Caribbean subregion, one of the most disaster-prone in the world. In such areas, an unexplained growth in debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio had been seen in recent years, particularly those corresponding with major hurricane disasters. Moreover, for Grenada and countries like it, some 40 per cent of Government expenditure was spent on disaster recovery alone, he noted. Many countries would understandably prefer to divert some of those expenditures to sustainable development.

There was a clear link between development and vulnerability, he continued. In developed regions such as Europe, climate change adaption actions were already saving lives and money every year, while other regions were unable to do the same. However, small island developing States and other countries were taking action in their own ways, with support from the United Nations system, the World Bank and other institutions. Small islands were tackling challenges, but also embracing the opportunities presented by the “blue economy”, he said, pointing out that oceans were responsible for an estimated 61 per cent of global GDP, and that fisheries and aquaculture supported hundreds of millions of livelihoods. However, none of those opportunities could be properly seized unless the challenges facing the blue economy were properly addressed, he said, citing in particular overfishing, pollution and ocean acidification. As a result of those challenges, the ability of oceans to provide “blue opportunities” was being severely reduced. In that context, the President of the World Bank had recently invited countries, non-governmental organizations and the United Nations system to build upon already existing inputs and move forward with an implementation agenda, with the main goal of restoring ocean health. Of critical importance was to “actually value the ecosystem services properly”, he added, noting that some countries had put instruments in place, including “debt for nature” and “debt for adaptation” swaps, which involved the value of coastal land and reefs. “This is something we’re going to be seeing much more of,” he said. “Job number one needs to be mitigation,” he stressed, noting that without mitigation, all adaption efforts would be “for nought”.

Ms. CARBY said evidence-based planning for disasters, and development in general, was critical. Several key milestones for their use, including hazard mapping, provided a basis for site-specific investigations and for the recommendation of necessary mitigation measures. Another milestone was the systematic quantification of damage and the impact of environmental hazards, including small and medium-sized events. A third milestone was the use of “catastrophic risk analysis” for hurricane and seismic hazards, which showed that almost $20 billion in public assets were at risk from such hazards. All of those milestones had been essential in demonstrating the need to incorporate disaster risk reduction into long-term development planning, she said.

She went on to cite the example of Negril, a Jamaican tourist destination and fishing village under threat from erosion. Over the last few years, scientific studies had led to a better understanding of both the rate and causes of erosion, and had been used to delineate the areas at highest risk. Based on those studies, an intervention had been designed to erect barriers off shore, reduce wave energy and protect the coastal environment, she said. That initiative aimed to reduce erosion and the re-growth of sea grass beds. That same knowledge would provide multiple practical benefits, and, moreover, inform climate change adaption and other plans specific to the village. Governments, donors and other partners must be willing to invest in research, “the forgotten element” of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, she stressed.

Mr. THIAW said the linkages between the environment and disasters were widely documented but insufficiently integrated into disaster risk reduction and development plans. For instance, deforested slopes could cause more landslides while healthy and well-managed ecosystems, such as wetlands and forests, could act as natural buffers against common hazards. Coral reefs and sea grass protected beaches against storm surges and erosion. “Healthy ecosystems are the best ‘insurance coverage’ for the poorest of the poor, who depend almost entirely on natural resources for their livelihoods and for their protection against hazards,” he said.

Healthy and well-managed coastal and terrestrial ecosystems supported local resilience by sustaining livelihoods and providing for basic needs, such as food, shelter and water, before, during and after hazard events, he continued. Applying ecosystem management for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation was a “no-regret”, cost-effective investment, he said. First, it was necessary to maximize shared priorities between the disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and sustainable development agendas. Second, there was a need to factor environmental sustainability and risk reduction into public and private investments to achieve the necessary outcomes, and third, it was important to strengthen national and local capacities. “In some countries, appropriate policies and legislation are already in place, but the main problem lies in their enforcement and implementation,” he said, adding that the ecosystem-based approach to disaster risk reduction could create “a win-win situation”.

Mr. BUKURU said that through the anti-desertification Convention, States Parties had committed to undertake activities to reduce vulnerability to drought, with the goal of improving the living conditions of both affected populations and ecosystems. In strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability, “the state of ecosystems matters”. Indeed, where ecosystems were damaged, there was a higher vulnerability, he said, citing the example of Haiti — which was nearly entirely deforested — and its high rate of losses following successive hurricanes. In the case of the massive 2010 earthquake that had devastated the country, its losses could have been avoided if the capital, Port-au-Prince, had not been overpopulated by rural migrants who had fled degraded lands.

Many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people lived in degraded or desert lands, he continued. During droughts, the poorest rural households suffered disproportionately high crop losses, while droughts and other disasters could exacerbate those social patterns in countries where the socio-economic status of women was low. So far, the international community’s approach to risk arising from drought, land degradation and desertification had been largely reactive, he noted, stressing that what was needed was building effective resilience in the long run. That concept was gaining some traction, but specific targets must be set. Objectives should be mainstreamed in the overall development framework, he added. “The overall solution to drought is sustainable development”, he concluded, urging drought-prone countries to incorporate measures to combat desertification, land degradation and drought into their overall development frameworks.

Mr. SCHNEIDER said the magnitude and frequency of disasters was increasing because of the larger numbers of people now living in disaster-prone areas. The question was how to close the gap between national policy and practice on the ground, “where it really counts”. The answer began with fundamental scientific knowledge, but that was not enough. Scientists must communicate that knowledge to policymakers and to the public at large. To that end, scientists were working with institutions in developing countries as well as local communities, encouraging the practical application of knowledge, he said. They were also bringing public and private institutions together to develop shared knowledge of hazards and risks. That was truly “bringing everyone to the table”, he said.

Recalling that Typhoon Ketsana had struck the Philippines in 2009, causing damages, fatalities and displacement, he said that in the wake of that disaster, Australia was working to help the Philippines combat future disasters risks, including by developing a three-dimensional map of the metro Manila area and monitoring the likelihood of flooding and its impacts. He also cited awareness-raising programmes in Papua New Guinea, which had been largely destroyed by a 1994 volcanic eruption. Other examples included the Global Earthquake Model initiative, a public-private partnership that was developing open and freely available tools to improve global collective knowledge. There were several other important elements to consider, including community engagement to help people be better prepared, and the open and free development of tools to help Governments “bring science downstream” and turn information into concrete action.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Papua New Guinea, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Island States, said the grouping made up 8 per cent of the top 20 countries in a ranking of average annual disaster losses scaled by GDP. Noting that one disaster could destroy many years of hard-won development gains, he said that sound decisions at the beginning of development process laid the foundations for effective disaster risk reduction strategies, with corresponding savings in both lives and property.

The representative of Bangladesh said disaster risk reduction had become everybody’s business in his country, and requested additional information from the panellists about technology transfer in disaster risk mitigation.

The representative of Pakistan, noting that communications had failed to save many people in 2010 and 2011 disasters, emphasized the importance of early warning systems that people could trust and understand. He also stressed the need for vulnerable people develop their own strategies to mitigate disaster risk. He strongly urged emission reduction as a way to make development more resilient.

The representative of Thailand said the country had put several initiatives in place, including water management and recovery support projects for local businesses, with the aim of reducing damage from future disasters. Efforts to minimize disaster risk must be integrated into other development priorities in a complementary way, rather than in competition with them.

The representative of Cuba described successful disaster risk reduction efforts that had been carried out in his country. The panellists’ statements showed the worrying effects of the current unjust and unsustainable world order, he added.

The representative of Norway, noting that disaster risk reduction had been part of her country’s domestic policy for many years, highlighted the importance of recent reports by the World Bank and other institutions that had brought new data to the discussion on disaster risk reduction.

Mr. CHOWDHURY, responding to several of those comments, said there was no such thing as a “natural disaster”. Indeed, the point was to ensure that natural hazards did not become “disasters”. Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaption were major governance challenges, he said, adding that 2015 would be a “defining watershed year” with the deadlines for the Hyogo Protocol and the Millennium Development Goals. Everyone was looking at the same challenge from different perspectives, he pointed out, urging an examination of the linkages between all those seemingly disparate issues.

Ms. CARBY said disaster risk reduction efforts must take a holistic look at community life and address a wide array of factors. She also appealed to countries to use open-source materials for disaster risk reduction.

Mr. THIAW, addressing the issue of technology transfer, said it was not only a traditional North-South issue; the transfer of indigenous and local knowledge must also be addressed. He also brought up the nexus of disasters and conflicts, citing the example of Sudan and South Sudan, where environmental pressures were being exerted in the wake of their long-running war.

Mr. FRIDAY said that the World Bank had been working with countries to set up climate innovation centres and find “home-grown” climate mitigation solutions. Regarding technology transfer and information-sharing, efforts were being undertaken to get information to the community level. Much innovation was coming from countries themselves, he said, citing several small island developing States.

Mr. SCHNEIDER also addressed the use of open-source, web-based technologies that made information accessible online, saying they allowed data to be better integrated into disaster risk management decision-making.

Mr. BUKURU said all countries should commit to integrating drought-reduction efforts into national policies. The cycle of drought, famine and loss of life must be broken, he stressed. “Drought should not mean the loss of life.”

Also speaking was the representative of Palau (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States), Chile, Egypt and Hungary.

Closing Remarks

Ms. WAHLSTRÖM summarized key points discussed in today’s debate, including those relating to experiences shared by the cities of Quito and Istanbul. Remarks made in the thematic debate would be incorporated into a President’s Summary, she said, concluding by stressing the importance of integrating disaster risk perspectives into the “Rio+20” debate.

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