Reducing Disaster Risk Can Help Decrease Poverty, Safeguard Development, Secretary-General Says at Launch of Global Assessment Report

18 May 2009

Reducing Disaster Risk Can Help Decrease Poverty, Safeguard Development, Secretary-General Says at Launch of Global Assessment Report

18 May 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s opening remarks at a ceremony launching the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction in Bahrain on 17 May:

Thank you for your hospitality and kind welcome.

There is an Arab proverb that tells us, “For every glance behind us, we should look twice to the future.”  It is precisely that spirit of reflection and action that summons us here in Bahrain.  We have come together to apply lessons of the past to build a safer tomorrow for communities and families.

The challenge is clear.  Last year alone, 236,000 people lost their lives in over 300 disasters.  More than 200 million were directly affected.  Damages totalled over $180 billion.

Asia was hit especially hard.  Nine of the top 10 countries with the highest number of disaster-related deaths were in Asia.  The Gulf countries have so far been less exposed to disasters.  But rising sea levels threaten Bahrain, Egypt and Djibouti.  Many other Arab countries are stricken by earthquakes and drought.

The Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction that we launch today is the most comprehensive international effort to identify disaster risk, analyse its causes and show what we can do to tackle the challenge.  It is founded on an essential modern-day truth:  we cannot prevent events such as earthquakes or cyclones, but we can limit their potential for disaster.  This report comes at the right time.

As a result of global climate change, weather-related hazards are on the rise and we must act decisively.  I commend this region's pioneering role in making disaster risk reduction a first line of defence in adapting to climate change.

We know that poor people and developing countries suffer the most from disasters.  This new report catalogues just how concentrated this risk can be, and how similar exposure to hazard can kill people, many or a few.  For example, 75 per cent of those who die from floods live in just three countries in the world.  Or consider cyclones:  17 times more people perish due to tropical cyclones in the Philippines than in Japan, even though the two countries' exposure to cyclones is the same.

Our capacity to cope with natural hazards is much greater than we realize.  The Hyogo Framework for Action urges all countries to make major efforts to reduce disaster risk.  Every country can and must do more to follow through on this commitment to preventing, mitigating and preparing ourselves to withstand natural hazards.

Today, I call on Heads of Governments and political leaders around the world to invest more in disaster risk reduction.  This is crucial if we are to achieve the goals outlined in the Hyogo Framework for Action as well as the Millennium Development Goals.  It is critical to saving lives and livelihoods.

This report offers clear recommendations.  In particular, it urges a major shift in development thinking by emphasizing resilience and pre-emptive measures.  It points to the three main underlying drivers of disaster risk:  first, unplanned urban development; second, vulnerable rural livelihoods; and third, the decline of ecosystems.

The report further demonstrates how to limit the impact of disasters on people:  by upgrading squatter settlements and providing land and infrastructure for the urban poor. By strengthening rural livelihoods and protecting ecosystems.  And by using microfinance, micro-insurance and index-based insurance.  Such measures have great potential.

We know the dividends.  Reducing disaster risk can help countries decrease poverty, safeguard development and adapt to climate change.  This, in turn, can promote global security, stability and sustainability.  In short, taking action now to reduce disaster risk can be one of the best investments countries can make.

Thank you again for coming together in support of this vital effort.  Thank you for looking twice to the future.

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