Geneva, Switzerland

10 May 2011

Secretary-General's press conference at the launch of the 2011 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction

SG: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I am happy to see you again. Tomorrow, I will have a press conference where we can discuss a broad range of issues of our work.

Today, I would like to focus my press conference on this official launching of the Global Platform. I would like to focus on the 2011 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, and also on the related issues of nuclear safety and nuclear security.

As I said in my speech today, disaster risk reduction is more than simply a technical issue. The United Nations is a global first responder to crises and disaster. I have visited many disaster zones around the world, and seen much destruction.

During the height of a crisis, there is little space for reflection. Lives hang in the balance. Every minute counts. But there is much we can learn after the fact -- and there is much we can do to minimize the impact for the future.

We cannot eliminate disasters, but we can mitigate risk. We can reduce damage. We can save more lives.

As this new report shows, disasters caused by natural hazards are taking a heavy toll on communities everywhere –in countries rich and poor. They are outpacing our ability to respond.

But there is good news. Common-sense investments in early warning and preparedness are making a difference and saving lives.

As the report shows, mortality risk in East Asia is only half what it was just 20 years ago –even though more people are moving to floodplains and cyclone-prone coastlines.

However, economic loss and damage to homes, schools, health facilities and livelihoods are on the rise globally. We must therefore do more to risk-proof development.

The report points out another critical fact: Much of the damage from disasters is the result of frequent low-severity extensive disasters, rather than less-frequent intensive catastrophes.

That underscores the value of advance planning.

Often, this planning is not a matter of spending more, but of using resources more wisely.

We know what works. Good building design. Proper land-use planning. Public education. Community preparedness. Effective early warning systems. Focusing on the needs and potential of women –the largest untapped resource for change.

Consider two cyclones in Bangladesh, 16 years apart: the first killed 150,000 people; the second, just over 4,000. Bangladesh is one of the model countries to have carried out this type of preparedness against natural disasters. The difference was a considered investment in disaster risk reduction.

Climate change means more incidents of extreme weather events. As I said, we need to risk-proof development. This message is especially critical as we prepare for the Rio-plus 20 Conference next year.

Let me now turn to the emerging nexus between natural disasters and nuclear safety. The tragedy at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant illuminates a 21st century reality.

We must do all we can to promote nuclear safety. This includes thinking about nuclear safety standards, how and where we build nuclear power plants, and how we safeguard nuclear materials.

Last month, when I visited Chernobyl to mark the 25th anniversary of the disaster, I proposed a five-point plan on nuclear safety.

On September 22 this year, I will convene a high-level meeting in New York on nuclear safety and security,

I will present a UN system-wide study on the implications of the accident at Fukushima and build on my five-point plan. The study will look closely at the emerging nexus between natural disasters and nuclear safety.

The September meeting will build on next month's IAEA Conference in Vienna that will address measures needed to enhance nuclear safety in the wake of Fukushima. It will also provide a bridge to the second Nuclear Security Summit next year in Seoul, Korea, by addressing the link between nuclear security and nuclear safety.

Once again, let me thank Ms. Wahlstrom for her leadership and commitment. And I look forward to seeing all of you here tomorrow. Thank you very much.

Q: Secretary-General, I have got briefly a question on man-made disasters, what is happening right now off the coast of Libya with hundreds of people drowning, and what you plan to do on the man-made disaster on the cholera outbreak in Haiti that is galloping along at hundreds of new cases every day. Thank you.

SG: I believe I will have an opportunity of addressing all these issues - that is why I asked you to focus on this very important launching. Of course man-made disasters, we have to address, I am doing it, and the whole international community is focusing their time and energy. But this time, we also need to make this world much safer so that we can live more comfortably without any fear of being impacted by natural disasters. I would hope you will understand. Once I open this floor for any political and security-related issues, then I think our focus may be swept away and thus we are doing all equally important issues, so let us focus on this. Tomorrow, I will give you the floor. Thank you.

Q: We are going to have local government elections in my country [South Africa] on 18 May, in a few days. What will be your message to politicians out there? I know you cannot tell them what to do, but obviously you could have some advice, because we have noticed that most of these disasters happen at the local level, in terms of the way houses have been built, there is lack of water, we have seen a lot of service delivery protests.

SG: I just addressed the General Assembly Hall [plenary session]. I have highlighted three risk reduction related action plans. First, reassessing all this safety preparedness of critical infrastructure like hospitals and schools and public buildings. But in doing that, local governments, local communities, leadership and preparedness is most important. Normally, the United Nations tries to raise awareness of the importance of this, and tries to encourage governments, and government leaders to make good policies. But it is after all local leaders, mayors and provincial governors, they have to carry out and implement nationally agreed safety codes, building designs, and reassessing safety standards all the time. Therefore, when South Africa has elected their local leaders, I hope they will also try to look at a candidate who would be committed to these kinds of very important issues which the international community is now trying to address. Of course, there will be many local issues, many national issues, but this is part of the global campaign. There is no difference between global and local. Local is global, global is local. That is what I am telling to provincial and local leaders. Therefore, I would really hope that through this very democratic election process, they should elect leaders with strong principles and good vision for our better future. Thank you.

Q: My question is: disaster reduction also means empowering the poor and giving a voice to developing countries. Will you support the cause of India for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council?

Moderator asks for question related to disaster risk reduction

Q: What will be the slogan for this conference?

SG: Let us make a safer world where all the citizens of the world can live without fear of any impact caused by natural disasters. We can make this world safer, more comfortable, and let us leave this world environmentally safe and comfortable to our succeeding generations. That is our moral and political responsibility.

Q: There is one woman here who wants to ask a question. I am speaking on her behalf as she does not speak English. She would like to know what is your impression and what can be done about the landslides and the flooding that has been happening in Colombia?

SG: All landslides and flood-related disasters can be prevented if we pay more attention. First of all, landslides are caused because of deforestation, tree-cutting and improper land use. This has caused massive landslides which kill many people. Therefore, reforestation as well as proper land use planning, this will be very helpful. You have seen successful cases whereby reforesting, by designating national arbor days, many people went to the mountains and used to plant trees. After 10 or 20 years, you can prevent these unnecessary landslides. So let us look at every aspect of our land and community to prevent any such unnecessary disasters. That is the main purpose of our global platform today. Muchas gracias.