Press Conference on General Assembly Thematic Debate on Disaster Risk Reduction

9 February 2011

Press Conference on General Assembly Thematic Debate on Disaster Risk Reduction

9 February 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on General Assembly Thematic Debate on Disaster Risk Reduction


Disaster risk reduction was crucial to protect gains made in reaching the Millennium Development Goals, especially in poor countries where capacities were low and massive losses would only perpetuate a cycle of poverty and disempowerment, General Assembly President Joseph Deiss said today at a Headquarters press conference.

The Assembly’s informal thematic debate on disaster risk reduction, held today, marked the first time the 192-member body had discussed that topic, he explained, noting that it had been organized as a follow-up to September’s high-level plenary meeting on the Goals, where world leaders had acknowledged that increasing resilience to natural hazards could have multiplier affect, and even speed progress towards attaining the Goals.  (See Press Release GA/11048)

The objective was to help mobilize action on and political awareness of disaster risk reduction, he explained.  The debate would highlight the links between disaster risk reduction, poverty eradication and sustainable development.  Moreover, he hoped it would build momentum for committed action in the run-up to the “Rio+20” Conference on Sustainable Development, to be held in Brazil in 2012.

Margareta Wahlström, Assistant Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, who joined Mr. Deiss at the press conference, said 2010 had been a “record” year in terms of lives lost and infrastructure destroyed by natural disasters.  Global reinsurance company estimates showed that over 300,000 people had died and 210 million people had been directly affected by disasters.  Losses had totalled $130 billion, of which only $37 billion was insured.

Globally, only 30 per cent of countries and people had insurance, she said, although work was ongoing to ensure coverage for poor countries.  Indeed, dramatic mudslides in Brazil and two large-scale floods in Australia showed the huge losses in physical infrastructure.  In Australia alone, losses to physical infrastructure had reached $A28 billion.

Dealing with increasing losses required long-term planning and a conscious decision to invest in prevention, she asserted, adding: “I think it’s very regrettable that we have to have disasters for opportunities to change.”  Instead, knowledge acquired over decades should guide the shift from reaction to pre-emptive action in order to stem loss.

Today’s debate took place in the context of the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action, she said, which provided guidance on reducing risk to countries, communities and the international community alike.  The mid-term review of the Framework showed that “preparedness and early warning saves lives”, she said, as well as the fact that risk reduction and prevention had not been integrated into long- and medium-term planning.  Public education and awareness — a goal for today’s discussion — would create demand for safety.

Taking a question on efforts to help small island developing States, Ms. Wahlström said important gains had been seen in the Caribbean, where better early warning systems had been developed and very good hurricane planning put in place.  Economic losses, however, were growing and small island developing States typically did not have diversified economies, meaning that destroyed tourism or banana industries, for example, would seriously impact gross domestic product (GDP) to the tune of between 3 and 12 per cent, on average.

Taking a question on funding, Ms. Wahlström said a joint World Bank-United Nations report showed that “prevention pays, but you don’t have to pay for all prevention”.  She urged moving away from the assumption that prevention cost a lot of money.  Good choices must be made.  For example, roads could be built along a coastline, which carried risk, or away from the water — the costs involved were often the same.  What was costly was addressing the lack of infrastructure maintenance, which was a problem for poor and rich countries alike.  To support vulnerable countries, much stronger partnerships among local governments, civil society, the private sector and donors were needed to ensure better investments.

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