Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the High-Level Expert Panel on Water and Disaster
Istanbul, Turkey, 17 March 2009

Your Imperial Highness, The Crown Prince of Japan,
Your Royal Highness, The Prince of Orange,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to be here on behalf of the Secretary-General and the United Nations family to help launch the Water and Disaster Action Plan, prepared under the auspices of the Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB). I look forward to hearing the keynote address by His Imperial Highness Prince of Japan, Honorary President of the Advisory Board. It is important as we consider the work of the Board in the area of water and natural disasters that we take a strategic UN system-wide view.

Water and disaster risk reduction remains high on both the intergovernmental and inter-agency agendas. The United Nations “Water for Life,” Decade, proclaimed by the General Assembly for 2005-2015, seeks to promote efforts to fulfil international commitments made on water and water-related issues by the 2015 MDG deadline.

Water-related disasters, which are now increasing dramatically with climate change, have caused thousands of deaths and left millions of the most vulnerable of the world to rebuild their tattered lives.

Building capacity for disaster preparedness, prevention and response is the fundamental challenge that member states around the world face in dealing with the prospect of increasing natural disasters. It is a cross-cutting task of the United Nations system as a whole to support countries in this endeavour.

Building resilience to natural disasters requires strong economic growth, equitable social development and good environmental stewardship. In short, the path to resilience is equitable and sustainable development. Developed countries are better prepared to prevent, face and respond to such disasters because they possess the infrastructure, knowledge, skills and public awareness that comes with a high level of development. It is the insufficient and uneven progress in the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – that makes poor countries far more vulnerable to natural disasters.

The United Nations provides advice to requesting countries on preparing and revising their National Sustainable Development Strategies. We focus our support especially on the most vulnerable low-income countries, particularly the Small Island Developing States and the Least Developed Countries. In these countries, disaster preparedness, prevention and response capacity is an essential component of effective national sustainable development strategies.

In preparing these strategies, countries can draw widely on the available expertise within the United Nations system, including through the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) and its arms: the Inter-Agency Task Force on Disaster Reduction (IATF/DR) and the Inter-Agency Secretariat (UN/ISDR).

The advisory bodies, such as the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, and the interagency coordinating bodies play a vital role in identifying the additional challenges and action to be taken, and in mobilizing the know-how of the UN system in the service of the countries most vulnerable to water-related natural disasters.

This Advisory Board’s Water and Disaster Action Plan provides an excellent tool for the United Nations system to mobilize and coordinate its efforts in assisting member states to face the challenge of natural disasters. As the Action Plan reminds us, natural hazards might be inevitable, but high tolls of death and destruction are not.

The Action Plan is focused and clear. The Plan will enhance the capacity of countries, regional players and international organizations to cope with water-related disasters. And it takes into account the likely increase in the frequency and urgency of these disasters because of global climate change.

I truly appreciate the efforts of the High-level Expert Panel on Water and Disasters, which is ably chaired by Dr. Han Seung-soo, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, and the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change. Dr. Han Seung-soo understands that climate change and climate variability will make water-related disasters both more intense and less predictable. I thank the Panel for delivering a concise and practical Action Plan, with six urgent messages and 40 suggested Actions, and building on the earlier Hashimoto Action Plan, currently in implementation by the UN system.

On my return to New York, I look forward to doing my part to take forward the Panel’s Action Plan. I will brief the Secretary-General and suggest that he meet with Dr. Han Seung-soo to map out a viable implementation strategy. I will also explore how, under the leadership of the Secretary-General, and through the machinery of the Chief Executives Board, we can promote the implementation of the Plan throughout the UN system.

Urgent intergovernmental and inter-agency action, as proposed by the Action Plan, is incumbent on all stakeholders because millions of vulnerable people around the world demand – and deserve – better preparedness for water–related disasters.

Thank you.