Press Conference on United Nations Assistance to South Pacific Tsunami Zone

15 October 2009

Press Conference on United Nations Assistance to South Pacific Tsunami Zone

15 October 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on United Nations Assistance to South Pacific Tsunami Zone

Jordan Ryan, Assistant-Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, said today at a Headquarters press conference that the devastating effects of the late September tsunami and earthquake that battered Samoa and Tonga were a reminder of the importance of investing in disaster risk reduction in order to build back better.

He had just returned from those countries where he’d seen for himself the devastation caused by those disasters, he said.  They had killed close to 150 people, according to the latest figures from both islands, including 14 members of a single family in Samoa.  The Samoan Ministry of Health estimated that some 4,500 people there had been directly affected by the tsunami which had caused widespread damage to houses and infrastructure such as sea walls, hospitals, schools, roads, power and water supplies.

He said that preliminary assessments of the costs of the damage in Samoa were in excess of $150 million, a heavy burden for a small nation.  Substantive funding would be required to resume the productive sectors of the economy:  fisheries; agriculture; tourism; and household gardens.

The emergency response had been quite good in both countries, he continued, and Government leadership was extraordinary on the emergency side.  Both national Governments, as well as United Nations agencies and bilateral aid organizations, had provided immediate support.  UNDP had immediately released funding to support the initial disaster relief coordination efforts; support needs assessment and early recovery planning, and also provided technical support.  In the case of Samoa, that amounted to half a million dollars to kick start recovery programmes.  Tonga would be receiving significant resources to help with recovery programmes there.

In response to questions, he said that UNDP was a development agency, rather than a humanitarian one.  It provided assistance to all countries that had been affected by disasters and crises, often picking up where the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs left off, to help the authorities with early recovery efforts.

Yesterday was the International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction, Mr. Ryan said.  In that regard, the Samoan Minister for the Environment, in their meetings, had stressed the importance of natural disaster awareness.  The Tongan Prime Minister had concurred and noted that when warning of the tsunami was received, many foreigners ran to hills, while his own citizens, unfortunately, ran to the sea.

Preparedness also meant rebuilding in ways that might reduce the affect of such disasters in future.  On his recent visit, Mr. Ryan had seen a school that had been unaffected immediately next door to total devastation.  The school was fairly new and might have been constructed of materials better able to sustain the kind of damage that had occurred.  Where to rebuild was also significant.  If some structures in Samoa had been a mere 50-100 metres uphill from where they had stood, 143 people might not have died, he said.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.