Geneva, Switzerland

20 May 2013

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction Featured Event on Strengthening Partnerships towards Disaster Risk Reduction for Small Island Developing States

Thank you for this chance to discuss the critical issue of reducing the risks of disasters in Small Island Developing States.  I am pleased to see representatives from those countries and others who know that this issue is a matter of life and death.

I like to use the metaphor of "canaries in the coal-mine". We must learn to listen the voices from the Small Island Developing States. Salt water is permeating their fresh water supplies. These are existential issues. We usually ask "what is Plan B". Here, there is no "Planet B".

One of the most stark and heart-breaking examples was the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti.  After decades of environmental destruction, political instability and uneven or lack of investments in education and health a huge earthquake struck the country.  The staggering human suffering was compounded by a loss of some 15 percent of Haiti’s GDP.

That same year, Cyclone Evan cost Samoa one third of its annual economic output.  Over a decade, Jamaica’s annual losses equalled about two and a half per cent of its average annual investment, mostly from hurricanes.

The human, but also the business case, for action is clear.

When a disaster strikes, the immediate damage is just the first problem.  Over time, the affected areas will have to cope with lasting economic shocks. On average, a country’s debt-to-GDP ratio increases almost 25 percentage points in the three years following a disaster.  For small island developing states, recurrent disasters deepen debt. Governments spend so much rebuilding, that they cannot provide the same level of basic services to their citizens. This is causes social and individual problem.

If we are ever to attain sustainable development, we must address disaster and climate risks, especially in Small Island Developing States.

The Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States next year in Samoa offers an important opportunity to build political commitment, launch partnerships and take action.  I hope that disaster risk reduction and disaster management will receive due attention.

   Our discussions today, the conference in Samoa and other dialogues on the risks facing small island developing States can contribute to the global process of forging a vision for the post-2015 development agenda. Poor people are disproportionately affected, so this must be included in the development agenda.

In this effort, we should draw on lessons from the past to forge a safer future.

At the same time, we cannot wait for full agreement on the next sustainable development agenda to strengthen collaboration between Small Island Developing States and their development partners.

          A renewed global partnership must aim to help countries manage multiple risks so that they can pursue inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental sustainability. 

Last year’s Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development reaffirmed the special development needs of these countries.

They suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change – and they deserve additional assistance. They collectively contribute less than 1 per cent of total carbon dioxide emissions.  But ironically, losses from climate-related disasters may affect their entire economy and territory, in fact endanger their very existence.

Since small island development States are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, I expect their situation will be at the top of the agenda at the Samoa Conference. We have to assist vulnerable countries in building resilience to the effects of climate change.

The business community can help strengthen the economies of small island developing States. They make major investments which can and should be targeted to also address risks.

When we think of small island developing States many of us imagine paradise. The post card pictures. That is why they attract so many tourists looking for tranquillity and life at the sea side.  Governments should work with business to promote investments in tourism which address risk and support sustainable development, including employment opportunities.

Small island developing States have paid close attention to climate change and disaster risk for decades. Their leaders and people knew that these issues were important long before they rose to the top of the global agenda.

I count on small island developing States to continue to lead the way with ideas, innovation and energy to strengthen partnerships that benefit everybody. And we must listen to them.