16 November 2012
Press Conference

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

Press Conference by Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction

 


More and more disasters were on their way, Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, cautioned at a press conference today at Headquarters.


Events such as Hurricane Sandy were not freak events, she stated.  They were the impact of climate change.  Countries, irrespective of whether they were rich or poor, were exposed to that risk.  Climate scientists had long warned the international community to be prepared for more disasters.


In many of the fast-growing economies, she said, disaster risk and economic development were tied together.  However, in certain regions, such as Asia and Africa, risk accumulation was outpacing growing economic development.  Particularly vulnerable were coastal belts and flood deltas, where much of the economic growth was being generated.  Those areas were also seeing the fastest population growth.


Therefore, she stressed, disaster risk mitigation was a development issue which needed to be dealt with in the overall strategic development planning of countries.  It was vital, not just for Governments, but for businesses and ordinary citizens, as well, to fully recognize and integrate disaster risk into planning.  Early warning systems and preparedness, she underscored, saved lives.


At the policy level, it was especially crucial to influence the sustainable development agenda, she asserted.  If sustainable development did not include clear recognition of disaster risk, it was not very realistic.  In the past 30 years, billions of dollars had been destroyed by disaster risk.


Responding to questions about investment in disaster risk mitigation in emerging economies, she stated that many countries in Asia had fully realized that their rapid growth was vulnerable to disaster risk and were now developing systems to protect themselves.  She pointed to China, Indonesia and Viet Nam as examples.


She went on to say that, although Africa faced more challenges to disaster risk planning, it had also initiated visionary projects such as “the green wall”.  African countries were building a belt of green that would go from West Africa to the horn of the continent, in order to slow down soil erosion.  Various multilateral organizations in Africa were also involved with trying to mitigate the impact of droughts and their impact on food security.


In response to another question about the United Nations response to Hurricane Sandy and lessons to be learned from that event, she said that while emergency preparedness and communication had been excellent in New York City, urban areas were in general highly dependent on modern technology.  As a result, “when power goes down, we don’t know how to operate,” she observed.  Therefore, modern cities were more vulnerable today than they were a hundred years ago.  The United Nations Headquarters was part of that environment.


“The next disaster would not be exactly the same,” she warned.  The important lesson to learn was how to balance optimum investment in infrastructure with public awareness.  While hard measures were important, educating and organizing communities was equally key.


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For information media • not an official record