Amid Greater Intensity of Natural Disasters, Access by Middle‑Income Countries to Multilateral Financing Ever More Vital, Speakers Tell Economic and Social Council

ECOSOC/6873
24 October 2017
2018 Session, 4th & 5th Meetings (AM & PM)

Amid Greater Intensity of Natural Disasters, Access by Middle‑Income Countries to Multilateral Financing Ever More Vital, Speakers Tell Economic and Social Council

In rebounding from the devastating effects of natural disasters, middle‑income countries needed access to multilateral financing and support for a risk‑informed, resilient approach to hazards, speakers highlighted in a special meeting of the Economic and Social Council on the aftermath of recent hurricanes.

In a keynote address, Douglas Slater, Assistant Secretary‑General for Human and Social Development of the Caribbean Community, noted that most countries in the hurricane‑stricken region were middle‑income status and ineligible for concessional financing from multilateral institutions or official development assistance (ODA).

He said the international community must alter its thinking about criteria for access to concessionary funding, which must include the vulnerability of States.  The number of severe hurricanes was projected to increase by 40 per cent if global temperatures rose by 2°C, which would have a devastating effect on small island developing States, especially in the Caribbean.

Similarly, Miroslav Lajčák, President of the General Assembly, said more funding was needed to restore services like health, water and sanitation, shelter and food in countries affected by changing weather systems.  He added that affected States must redesign settlements in their rebuilding efforts, integrating clean energy, building better infrastructure and enhancing water and sanitation systems.

Also focusing on reconstruction, Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary‑General of the United Nations, said the international community must support affected countries to become more resilient, promote a risk‑informed approach to rebuilding and strengthen financial systems to cope with large‑scale shocks.  Risk‑informed sustainable development was a necessity, which required enhanced risk‑governance systems and should dictate policies and investment criteria.

She urged for greater investment in disaster‑resilient infrastructure and housing to reduce economic losses through technology, innovation and partnerships.  The international community must also ensure that funding supported longer‑term resilience in affected countries facing external shocks by reconsidering eligibility criteria for concessional financing.

Addressing hurricane devastation, Robert Glasser, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Disaster Risk Reduction, said the average annual loss from disasters in the Caribbean was 100 per cent of what was usually spent nationally on health, education and social protection.  Given the rising sea levels and warmer oceans, many of those countries could expect stronger storms and their surges in the future.

Climate scientists had also stated that two tipping points had already been reached, he said.  First, coral reefs were being destroyed by warming oceans, acidification and storms.  Second, the West Antarctic ice shelf was melting, with rising sea levels the result, and would continue to do so.

Alicia Ibarra, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), pointed to the small size, insularity and external indebtedness of countries in her region.  Some 70 per cent of Caribbean populations lived in coastal zones only 10 meters above sea level, adding to their extreme vulnerability.  The intensity of droughts could continue to be a significant concern, as seven Caribbean States were among the top 36 water-stressed countries.

She underscored the importance of the proposed Green Fund, which would finance projects assisting nations in adapting to climate change.  ECLAC had already identified projects and was attempting to ensure middle‑income countries received concessional financing from that fund and other stakeholders like the World Bank.

Presentations were also made by Marie Chatardová, President of the Economic and Social Council; Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary‐General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; Jessica Faieta, Assistant Secretary‐General and Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); and Francis Ghesquiere, Head of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, World Bank Group.

The event was moderated by New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman.

During the ensuing discussion, speakers recounted their experiences coping with hurricanes and other natural hazards, with many emphasizing the need for reconstruction-financing and echoing pleas for revised criteria to access concessional financing and ODA.

Antigua and Barbuda’s delegate recounted that hurricane Irma — the most powerful hurricane recorded over the Atlantic to hit land — had come ashore as a category 5 hurricane in his country, exposing it to winds higher than 195 miles per hour.  After Irma had ravaged Barbuda, the storm had left what had often been viewed as the most beautiful, untouched island in the world uninhabitable.

His Government was now faced with rebuilding the island, but had graduated to a high‑income country in June 2017, he said.  Despite its high level of vulnerability, it was categorized in the arbitrary ODA assessment criteria of gross domestic product (GDP) and largely ineligible for concessional financing and ODA due to revenue per capita exceeding the artificial criteria set.

On a similar note, Jamaica’s representative, stressing that the time had come to address the concerns of small island developing States, said the international community must provide better access to concessionary finance.  Adding that many were highly indebted middle‑income countries, he said an effective risk financing instrument was needed for emergency operations and to rebuild damaged infrastructure.

The representative of the Dominican Republic said his country had suffered enormous losses from hurricanes Irma and Maria, which had damaged thousands of kilometres of roads, bridges and agricultural lands.  Noting that more than $500 million would be needed for relief and reconstruction, he said disaster risk prevention, humanitarian action and adaptation to climate change must go hand‑in‑hand with the Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Other delegates expressed similar sentiments, with Venezuela’s representative urging for greater reconstruction measures, debt alleviation and favourable financing for small island developing States.  He proposed establishing funds with contributions from countries with greater responsibility for climate change, which would then be used to assist affected States.

The Maldives’ delegate highlighted the loss of coral reefs as natural barriers to storms and melting ice sheets contributed to sea level rise.  Her country and other small island developing States would work to enhance their resiliency, but she urged for greater assistance from the international community.  Improving response should start well before disaster strikes, particularly in capacity‑building, disaster resilience and financial support.

The representative of Trinidad and Tobago said the devastating aftermath of the recent hurricanes had clearly shown the international community the effects of climate change.  Adding that the region’s developmental possibilities were also significantly reduced, he said such events had widespread effects on economies, especially the agriculture, tourism and infrastructure sectors.

Also speaking were the representatives of Dominica, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Mexico, Cuba, Bahamas, Honduras, Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States, France, Ecuador, Russia Federation, Colombia, Switzerland, Nepal, Japan, Chile, Algeria, Pakistan, Thailand, Barbados, Guyana, United Arab Emirates, Bolivia, Belize, Canada, Fiji, Montenegro, Philippines, El Salvador, India, Sierra Leone and South Africa.  A representative for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) also spoke.

For information media. Not an official record.