In Japan, UN chief urges global solidarity to strengthen disaster resilience, boost development

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

14 March 2015 – With global leaders gathered in Sendai, Japan, to agree a new framework for managing disaster risk which will reduce mortality and curb economic losses, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today declared that responding to the world's growing needs requires empowering individuals, supporting communities and backing promises with resources.

“True resilience comes from strong bonds among countries and communities. The UN is committed to strengthening these bonds with a unified Plan of Action,” said Mr. Ban in opening remarks to the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

He recalled that the meeting, which is expected to draw thousands of government and civil society participants, is opening just days after the solemn fourth anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck the Sendai region, and as a powerful cyclone is bearing down on the tiny island nation of Vanuatu and its neighbors in the Pacific.

The aim of the Conference, which wraps up Wednesday, 18 March, is to update the landmark agreement reached a decade ago in Hyogo, Japan, which detailed the work required from all different sectors and actors to reduce disaster losses.

The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), itself crafted in the wake of the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami in January 2005, which claimed 227,000 lives, has since produced some important successes, including the reduction in the number of people directly affected by natural disasters in Asia – where most such disasters occur – by almost one billion.

“What we are discussing here is very real for millions around the world. We must keep their needs in sharp focus during the negotiations on this agreement,” said the Secretary-General, who noted that overnight, the eye of topical cyclone Pam had passed very close to Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila.

“We are not yet clear on the impact, but we fear the destruction and damage could be widespread. I hope there will be minimal loss of life. I extend my condolences to the people of Vanuatu and their representatives,” said the UN chief, adding: “Our thoughts are with all disaster victims. Our best possible tribute will be to make this Conference a success.”

Indeed, Mr. Ban told the gathered delegations that they had made this the highest-level meeting on disaster risk reduction in history. “This is the first stop on our journey to a new future…To put the people of this world on a sustainable path. Disaster risk reduction advances progress on sustainable development and climate change.”

Emphasizing that an ambitious outcome in Sendai would put the international community on a path to a new sustainable development agenda with new global goals at its core, including a universal climate agreement and financing to turn plans into results, the Secretary-General noted that Sendai kicks off a particularly crucial year for the United Nations, with world leaders meet in Addis Ababa in July to discuss development financing, then again in New York in September to adopt a new development agenda, and finally in Paris in December to forge a meaningful, binding climate change agreement.

“Sustainability starts in Sendai!' declared the UN chief, stressing that building on the successes of the Hyogo Framework, “we must respond to the world's growing needs by empowering individuals, supporting communities and backing promises with resources. We must especially help the poorest and most vulnerable.”

He went on to note that climate change is intensifying the risks for hundreds of millions of people particularly in small island developing States and coastal areas. Disasters put persons with disabilities and older persons in grave danger. In addition, nine out of 10 disaster fatalities are in low- and middle-income countries.

“Those States need special attention. But disaster risk reduction is in everybody's interest – and it is everybody's business. In this globalized economy, our world is smaller than ever. An earthquake in one country shakes up financial markets in another. Tropical storms in one region cause economic turbulence in another.”

“Disaster risk reduction is a frontline defence against the impacts of climate change. It is a smart investment for business and a wise investment in saving lives,” said the Secretary-General, explaining that the global annual price tag in damage now exceeds $300 billion.

“We can watch that number grow as more people suffer. Or we can dramatically lower that figure and invest the savings in development. Six billion dollars allocated each year can result in savings of up to $360 billion by 2030, he explained.

Yet he also stressed that resilience is not just a matter of strong buildings that can withstand earthquakes. “True resilience comes from strong bonds among countries and communities. The UN is committed to strengthening these bonds with a unified Plan of Action. Let us act in a spirit of global solidarity to make our world safer and more prosperous for all.”

Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of the host country, recalling the magnitude of the quake that had struck the Tokohu region, where Sendai is located, with 20,000 lives lost and much loss of livelihood, said that because his country was disaster prone it had been working hard on disaster risk reduction.

Japan, he said, emphasized the importance of “Build Back Better”, constantly revising flood management plans, enforcing weirs, constructing channels and conducting disaster education. The efforts were paying off – 60 years ago, large-scale flooding often cost thousands of lives, now it was rare for a flood to take more than 100 lives. Even during the East Japan quake, students knew to evacuate to higher ground through longtime oral tradition. It was now crucial to learn from recent events as well.

During the Third World Conference, current and past experiences from every part of the globe would be shared, participants would examine activities built on the Hyogo Framework, discuss utilization of new technology, seek effective collaboration with various stakeholders and then establish a new framework, passing from the era of Hyogo to Sendai, he said, welcoming the enthusiastic efforts of all participants in that work.

In his meetings in the margins of the Conference, the Secretary-General met with Prime Minister Abe and the two conferred, among others, on countering violent extremism and addressing the threat posed by Daesh, with Mr. Ban using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The Secretary-General to that end expressed his condolences to the Japanese Government and people for the horrendous killings of Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa by Daesh. The Secretary-General and the Prime Minister also discussed Syria, including the upcoming donor conference in Kuwait, as well as Middle East peace and UN reform.

Mr. Ban also met with Baldwin Lonsdale, President of Vanuatu. The UN chief said that his thoughts are with the people of Vanuatu as it faces the impacts of tropical cyclone Pam. He added that Vanuatu has already been suffering from the adverse effects of climate change, and storms such as Pam only exacerbate the challenges that the country faces.

The Secretary-General noted that Vanuatu's situation further highlighted the importance of the Sendai conference, as well as the urgent need for ambitious action on both disaster risk reduction and on climate change.


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