Sendai, Japan

14 March 2015

Secretary-General's press conference at Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction [scroll down for Q&A]

Kon-nichiwa. Good afternoon.


Minasan to kokode oaidekite totemo ureshii desu. I am so happy to be here with all of you.


We meet just days after the fourth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The United Nations stands with all the affected people.


Kokuren ha nihon wo ouen shiteimasu. The United Nations supports Japan.


I came to Tohoku in 2011 after the triple disaster hit. I was really inspired by the resilient people of this region.  I plan to visit the affected communities again tomorrow.


I commend the efforts of the Government to rebuild and to share its lessons with the world.


For the third time, Japan has turned an area hit by an earthquake into a place for generating seismic waves of progress around the world.


Today we made history at this Conference.


We have more high-level participants here than at any international meeting ever held on disaster risk reduction.


I am delighted to welcome such a wide range of partners. We are bringing together national leaders, mayors, businesses, researchers, farmers, parliamentarians, community leaders and other experts.


I especially appreciate the participation of children and young people. They are saying, 'Don't decide our future without us.' I welcome the Children's Charter on Disaster Risk Reduction – and the many commitments we are hearing on making schools safer.


We need these frontline defences against climate change, which is making extreme weather events into the ‘new normal.'


Right now, the people of Vanuatu are coping with the effects of Tropical Cyclone Pam. My thoughts are with them. Their struggle adds urgency to our efforts here in Sendai.


Over the last two decades, more than four out of every five disasters were related to the climate change phenomenon. The economic toll is as high as $300 billion every year.


Disaster risk reduction saves lives and protects the most vulnerable. It helps maintain political stability and business continuity.


That is a smart investment in our common future.


In 2015, we aim to achieve a new sustainable development agenda with new goals at its core; a universal, meaningful climate agreement; and the financing to turn promises into action.


Sustainability starts in Sendai.


Disaster risk reduction is the best beginning on our journey to the Addis Ababa meeting in July on financing for development, the New York Special Summit meeting at the United Nations on the sustainable development agenda in September, and, finally, the Paris meeting on climate change.


Agreement at those landmark events will put the world on course to limit climate change, end poverty and create a future where all people can live in dignity.


I sincerely hope that the leaders will come out of this Sendai meeting with an ambitious framework which will really be helping us to move [towards a] sustainable development and climate change agreement.


Thank you very much for your attention, and I am ready to answer some questions you may have.


Thank you. Arigato gozaimasu.


Q: You just talked about your hope that there would be an ambitious agreement out of Sendai. For you, what would be the most important elements of the agreement to be ambitious enough to put Sendai in that position of taking the first step towards a more sustainable world?


SG: These conferences on disaster risk reduction have been held, I think, regularly once every ten years. We have experienced such very tragic disasters at least during the last 10 years. We have to analyze and learn lessons from what had happened [and] how the international community had been responding. There are gaps, and there are lessons to learn. All these lessons should be included in a framework agreement in Sendai.


As I said, normally there is a tendency that people regard disaster risk reduction as [one thing] and sustainable development as another one. This is tightly interconnected. Therefore, we expect that this ambitious, strong agreement will be consistent with visions of sustainable development.


As you know, the Member States have been discussing and negotiating on sustainable development goals. They have initially identified 17 goals and disaster risk reduction is very essential part in many milestones which will make our world sustainable. That is why I am emphasizing the importance of a bold and ambitious framework from this meeting. Thank you.


Q: I want to ask you about two points. First, the relationship between disaster risk reduction, the sustainable development goals and climate change - do policymakers know the deep relationship between these three targets? ... Do you think that at this conference the relationship between developed and developing countries can reach consensus on how to cooperate?


SG: I think in fact you have raised a question and answered it. I cannot agree more with what you said. This is a very important one.


As I said already, normal perception is that when there is a disaster, you mobilize all the resources to minimize the impact of disasters. They do not think about this interconnectedness of disasters affecting MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] or sustainable development goals or health issues, and overall, it affects our overall life. That is why I have been emphasizing this very crucial year of 2015 when we have to address all these issues in a comprehensive way, emphasizing the interconnectedness of this world.


On this matter, financing and technological support will play a very important role. In that regard, I highly commend this very visionary and generous support announced by Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe this morning that Japan will provide $4 billion for disaster risk reduction activities and will train at least 40,000 local, government, and community people in disaster risk reduction activities. This is a quite important and visionary idea. I hope that many others [in the] developed world will also emulate what the Japanese Government has just announced. That is why I am emphasizing the importance of this Addis Ababa meeting in July. We are now talking about sustainable development, we are talking about the climate change agreement. In these twin priorities which the United Nations has been promoting, we will need financial and technological support. Without this, it will be extremely difficult. Thank you.


Q: The United Nations has been seeing natural disasters as an obstacle to economic growth and development. Do you think if that governments, especially in non-developed countries, and societies paid more attention to these numbers, they would tend to invest more in disaster risk reduction?


SG: Investing wisely in preventive measures - that is very smart. We may not be able to completely prevent natural disasters. They may strike us without any notice. But if we invest in early warning systems, if we invest in the preparedness of our society, making resilient communities, that will help a lot in, first of all, saving human lives and making our societies much more resilient. Then we can use all these resources and energy for more productive sustainable development goals.


I have been traveling to many countries, for example, in South-East Asia there have been annual tragedies, for example, in Bangladesh or in Myanmar. We have seen sometimes hundreds of thousands of people just killed by one cyclone in a year. In Bangladesh it happened, and a few years ago in Myanmar, [where] overnight, more than 100,000 people swept away and died. [Since] then, Bangladesh has been investing wisely in preparedness. Now the number has been drastically reduced to a few thousand. Of course, a few thousand human losses is still too much, too many, but it is much less than 10,000 or 100,000 people.


But this is one example. That is why I have launched a global campaign on disaster risk reduction with Margareta Wahlstrom, who has been working [as the head of the] United Nations office of disaster risk reduction. We have been launching a global campaign, global initiative. Preparedness will help a lot in minimizing the impact [of disasters]. Once [they happen,] unfortunately we have to mobilize all resources. For example, Vanuatu is now being hit by cyclone Pam. I have instructed ESCAP [Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific] and UNDP [UN Development Programme] to, first of all, assess the impact of the damage and try to provide whatever is necessary and is possible. I met the President of Vanuatu this morning and we discussed this matter.


Q: During a morning session, it was revealed that only 10 per cent of the world disaster-related budget is allocated to disaster risk reduction... How will you raise awareness in this area?


It may be different, depending upon the countries, how much they invest in the disaster risk reduction, DDR, area. I visited Sri Lanka immediately after the tsunami struck in 2004, in January 2005... A few years later when I visited Sri Lanka, I was able to see how they have been rebuilding and reconstructing.


Therefore, the main purpose and focus of this conference is that we not only we make good systems and mechanisms and framework for disaster risk reduction, [but] at the same time, it has the effect of enhancing awareness on the part of political leaders - the presidents, prime ministers and ministers concerned that we need to have some more focus and more political priority [placed] on disaster risk reduction. Once [a disaster] happens, it costs much, much more [in terms of] resources, but we can minimize this kind of impact. That is why this framework agreement which will come out of this meeting also focuses on that area. I am again urging the government leaders and business leaders and civil society to pay more attention in investing wisely in preventive preparedness. That is much more effective and less costly.


Q: The United Nations office for disaster risk reduction has repeatedly stressed the need to make disaster risk reduction everybody’s business. It seems easier said than done. Do you have any suggestions on how to make disaster risk reduction a household term?


That is why we are meeting here. Making it, any initiative, a household name – it requires some time. That is why I established this UNISDR, the United Nations office on disaster risk reduction. We have been meeting regularly and I have already launched many global initiatives. Before I came here, I announced the Global Assessment Report. By launching, releasing the global disaster risk reduction assessment report, and also a launching global campaign, visiting several different countries – that really enhances the awareness, importance, of this issue.


Frankly speaking, government leaders have not been paying as much attention as they have been doing some to other economic growth policies. But once [a disaster] happens, then you have to mobilize all resources, divert resources, to these disaster risk reduction issues. I hope with this conference and continuing efforts, we will be able to pay more attention and invest more wisely in these disaster risk reduction areas. That is the main purpose and the United Nations will continue to mobilize the necessary political will and resources.