It is an honour for me to send this message to the Expert Group Meeting on "Environmental management and the mitigation of natural disasters: a gender perspective". I am delighted that the Meeting is taking place in Turkey, one of the strong supporters of the United Nations and a committed advocate for gender equality and the human rights of women. I am deeply grateful to the Government and the people of Turkey for their co-operation and support for our activities in the advancement of women. In particular, I thank you for hosting this Meeting in a country which has experienced so many natural disasters including the terrible earthquake in Izmit in August 1999. More than 17 000 people lost their lives and 15 million were affected. The financial costs of that earthquake were enormous.
I wish to thank our sister organization and co-organizer - The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) as well as all participants in this Meeting. Your outstanding credentials as researchers and practitioners in natural disasters and complex emergency situations, are the best guarantee that this Meeting will recommend practical strategies to address gender perspectives of environmental management and natural disaster mitigation. They will also strengthen international co-operation in combating this deadly phenomenon. I wish also to take this opportunity to thank for their support, our colleagues in the Division for Sustainable Development within the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) responsible for organizing the forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development, scheduled to take place in Johannesburg in September 2002.
In the past year, the world has suffered several major natural disasters. A powerful earthquake struck Gujurat in India, droughts in Afghanistan amplified man-made emergencies and catastrophic floods took many lives in Mozambique. In all these places, women were often affected differently than men. It is part of the purpose of this Meeting to explore these differences and how our policies should take them into account. Although natural disasters may happen anywhere, it is particularly the least developed countries which are most affected as they lack the capacity to prevent and prepare for disasters. And when a natural disaster occurs, it is usually women who are most affected.
Natural disasters have an adverse impact on the environment. Such disasters are often exacerbated by environmental degradation and mismanagement. Where there is sound management, the reverse is true thus establishing a direct link between disaster mitigation and environmental management. We have found that often decisions on environmental management are taken without community involvement. We need more women in decision-making positions at all levels to ensure good management. We therefore need more women managers in science, in public administration and planning, in relief efforts and reconstruction and in policy making.
This Meeting builds on the Beijing Platform for Action of 1995 and on the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century" (Beijing+5). The latter called on Governments and other national and international actors to incorporate a gender perspective into disaster prevention, mitigation and recovery strategies. It also recommended that the international community should assist governments in developing gender-sensitive strategies applied during the humanitarian assistance following a natural disaster.
To have a wide range of views for your consideration here, the Division for the Advancement of Women has just organized a six-week on-line discussion on "gender equality, environmental management and natural disasters". More than 240 people from diverse backgrounds and places, such as Kathmandu and Monrovia, participated.
The theme of this Meeting is particularly timely, as the issue of natural disasters and their gender impact, in particular the impact on women and girls, has been identified as an emerging issue in various intergovernmental bodies of the United Nations. The Commission on the Status of Women, for example, decided to consider the topic "Environmental management and mitigation of natural disasters: a gender perspective" as a priority theme at its session in 2002 and as an input to the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Your decisions here will therefore have a direct impact on this process. It is also a window of opportunity to produce a blueprint not only for partnership with Governments, civil society, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and private sector, in resolving these problems, but also for reaching consensus on a global strategy for incorporating a gender perspective into environmental management and natural disaster mitigation.
My very best wishes for a highly productive meeting.