Geneva, Switzerland

21 May 2013

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at Plenary Session on Private Sector for Resilient Societies

Thank you for attending this important session.

Economic losses from disasters are enormous.  For three consecutive years, the estimated global cost was more than $100 billion.  That was the reported number.  Real losses are estimated to have been, in this century alone, at least 50 percent higher.

Predictions for the future are even more alarming. In the coming years, it is expected that annual global losses from earthquakes and cyclones alone will amount to $180 billion dollars if we do not take action.

The past five years have taught us that economies dependent on global supply chains and critical infrastructure are at high risk when disaster strikes.  We saw this during the floods in Pakistan, Australia and Thailand, the earthquakes in New Zealand, and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The vast majority of damage to businesses - 90 percent – is caused by recurrent local disasters that never make it into international statistics.  These affect lives, communities and the sustainability and competitiveness of businesses.

The private sector has a huge stake in disaster risk reduction. Depending on their choices, private investments can be good business propositions and at the same time make communities more resilient to disasters.

That is why the Hyogo Framework for Action identifies the private sector as a vital partner in reducing disaster risk losses.

We have witnessed a disturbing trend in recent years: countries which were growing fastest lost most in the event of disasters.  This means that investments indeed can create new risks if economic assets are placed in exposed or vulnerable areas.

Last year’s Hurricane Sandy had a huge economic impact in the US and parts of the Caribbean.  It showed that disasters harm both citizens and the wider business community.  Even those businesses which did not take direct losses were badly affected because the ‘lifelines’ of businesses failed– transport, power and communications networks.

My main message is - resilient investments are not only good deeds, they are also good business.  Economies depend on thriving business for employment and growth.  And, the business community depend on strong and resilient infrastructure in order to stay competitive.

We were all shocked and deeply saddened by the collapse of the factory building outside Dhaka in April.  It was an unspeakable tragedy.

The economic effects of disasters of this kind can be substantiated.  International companies which accept production in conditions that place workers and assets at risk pay a price in negative international exposure.  Suppliers who operate a facility that violate government and local building codes will see a halt of operations.  Governments often do not have the capacity to regulate or monitor every aspect of business activities.  No solution will be sustainable unless business itself addresses risks.

The private sector has a responsibility to protect lives and an interest in preserving assets.  At the same time, companies can contribute with practical solutions to national and international work on disaster risk reduction.

In shaping our future development agenda, where disaster risk reduction clearly has a place, we are looking for the voices of all partners.

Your ideas at this meeting will be welcome when it comes to how the business community can produce solutions that are good for people and good for business and good for national economies.

I count on you to help usher in a more sustainable future for all.

Thank you.