19 May 2014
Deputy Secretary-General
DSG/SM/774
ENV/DEV/1430

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

R!SE Initiative Addresses Limitations of Piecemeal Responses to Disasters


By Forging Joint Effort, Deputy Secretary-General Says at Launch


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at the launch of the R!SE Initiative on Disaster Risk Reduction, in New York today:


I have spent much of my professional life focused on disasters — if there is one thing I have learned, is that most could — and should — have been averted, or the consequences reduced.  I, therefore, congratulate you on the launch of the R!SE Initiative today.


Reducing the risk of disasters is crucial to sustainable development and more stable and peaceful societies.  A disaster can swiftly destroy years of painstaking progress, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable.


Prevention and preparation are critical.  Economic losses from disasters are higher than at any time in history.  Their impacts ripple across the world affecting regional markets and the global economy.


This United Nations Headquarters itself is exposed to risk.  We saw that during Hurricane Sandy — which hit this complex hard in October 2012.  The Secretary-General said one of the main lessons of that disaster was that the world needs to invest in creating a more resilient and sustainable future for all.


Climate change and extreme weather events are risk multipliers.  When severe floods drowned much of the production of car parts in Thailand in 2011, output of vehicles dropped by 70 per cent in India and 50 per cent in China.  That means less profits, less taxes and fewer jobs for all concerned.


The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan the same year had a high tragic human cost.  But, it also affected people by destroying their income base.  Ten months later, one third of the small and medium enterprises had still not reopened their business.


Globally, assets worth more than an astronomical $70 trillion are exposed to earthquakes.


The R!SE Initiative takes this problem head-on.  It recognizes that we cannot continue to prepare for and respond to disasters piecemeal.  The scope and nature of disaster and climate risks are so broad ranging and serious that no single actor or institution can address them on their own.  We simply have to do it together.  Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.


Models indicate that we in the future can expect global losses of at least $180 billion a year due to earthquakes and cyclone winds alone if we do not take more energetic preventive action.  Add to that, the cost of floods, droughts, landslides and tsunamis.  Governments and private sector alike, therefore, have an important role to play in prevention through risk-sensitive investments that avoid creating new risks and minimize those that exist.


Recent disasters also show how important it is that safety and building regulations are established and effectively implemented and fully respected.  The link between the rule-of-law area and prevention, as well as disaster risk reduction should be understood and developed.


The R!SE Initiative shows the benefits of understanding and managing risk across a wide range of public and private actors.  Bringing together businesses, investors, insurers, public bodies and educators in this joint effort may be the catalyst we need.


On 23 September this year, the Secretary-General will convene leaders in New York for a climate summit.  All the communities R!SE is reaching out to will be there.  It will be an ambition and action summit, and R!SE is a clear example of what action we need.


In March 2015, Governments will convene in Sendai, Japan, to agree on the international framework for disaster risk reduction.  Again, the R!SE Initiative can showcase how partnerships for disaster risk reduction can contribute to a resilient and sustainable future.


I commend your Initiative, and wish it every success.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record