Secretary-General Tells General Assembly Disaster Risk Reduction Event of 2011 Focus on Small Island States, Least Developed Countries

9 February 2011

Secretary-General Tells General Assembly Disaster Risk Reduction Event of 2011 Focus on Small Island States, Least Developed Countries

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

Secretary-General Tells General Assembly Disaster Risk Reduction Event


of 2011 Focus on Small Island States, Least Developed Countries


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the General Assembly’s informal thematic debate on disaster risk reduction, in New York today, 9 February:

Last year, more than a quarter of a million people were killed by disasters.  From the earthquake in Haiti and major tremors in Chile and China to floods in Pakistan and Europe; from wildfires in Russia and the United States to cyclones and tropical storms in Asia, barely a day went by without lives devastated, homes demolished, people displaced and carefully cultivated hopes destroyed.

It was one of the deadliest years in more than a generation.  This year may prove to be just as costly.  We have already seen grievous disasters in Australia and Brazil.  They show that no country or city — rich or poor — is immune to disaster.

But, all too often, poorer countries suffer disproportionately and have the biggest challenges in recovering from the social and economic impacts.  Children are among the most vulnerable.  Thousands died last year as earthquake, flood or hurricane reduced their schools to rubble.

These deaths could have been prevented.  Lives can be saved by advance planning — and by building schools, homes, hospitals, communities and cities to withstand hazards.  Such measures to reduce risk will grow ever more important as our climate changes and extreme events become more frequent and intense.

Countries that incorporate climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction into their budgets and development planning will be better placed to protect hard-won development gains and accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.  And achieving the Millennium Development Goals will pay dividends by creating more resilient societies.

Experience and common sense agree: we must invest today for a better tomorrow.  We see such investments paying off already — in Peru, China, Jamaica, Viet Nam and Madagascar.  Queensland in Australia has just escaped relatively unscathed from one of the largest cyclones to hit the country in living memory.

Luck played a part; the densest population areas were spared.  But planning and preparedness also played a key role.  We need to take lessons from cities and countries that have shown how to reduce risk, as well as from those less fortunate, whose examples of calamity should give us all pause for thought.

Last month I briefed you on my strategic priorities for 2011, including my continued commitment to disaster risk reduction and the need to improve our response to humanitarian crises.

We must learn to manage and maintain a truly global response to crises and make the most effective use of resources.  A United Nations global disaster risk reduction campaign is already focusing on safer schools, hospitals and cities.  Nearly 600 towns and cities from all regions have committed to a 10-point checklist for making them more resilient.

But so much more needs to be done.  This year, we will focus on small island developing States and the least developed countries, including at the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in May.

As we look ahead to the Rio Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, it is plain that reducing risk and building resilience will be essential.  It will require courage, vision and leadership, and will need everyone’s participation and investment.

I am encouraged by the wide range of contributors to this discussion.  Reducing disaster risk is a job for all.  The more that Governments, United Nations agencies, organizations, the private sector and civil society understand risk and vulnerability, the better equipped they will be to mitigate disasters when they strike — as they most certainly will.

I welcome today’s debate.

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