New York

06 March 2013

Secretary-General's remarks to Special Thematic Session of the General Assembly on Water and Disasters

Your Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince of Japan, Honorary President of the United Nations Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, Your Royal Highness Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange, the Netherlands, Chair of the Board, Your Excellency, Mr. Vuk Jeremic, President of the United Nations General Assembly, Your Excellency, Dr. Han Seung-soo, Founding Chair of the High-level Expert Panel on Water and Disasters and the Board, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you all for attending this Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters together with members of my Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.

I am deeply grateful for their advocacy and support.

It is a special pleasure to welcome Dr. Han back to the General Assembly that he so ably presided over from 2001 to 2002 at the 56th session of the General Assembly.

This is the first General Assembly thematic session on water and disasters. It brings together representatives of the international community, governments and civil society. You have the collective expertise we need to advance progress.

Water-related disasters are a regular feature of life on our warming planet.

Just last month, an earthquake in the Pacific triggered a tsunami that wreaked havoc on the Solomon Islands. I offer my condolences to all those who were affected – the families that lost homes, the individuals who lost livelihoods, and the children whose sense of security was deeply shaken.

I have seen these survivors in countries around the world. I visited Myanmar in 2008 after Cyclone Nargis killed tens of thousands of people. I travelled to Pakistan in 2010 after massive floods displaced 20 million people. In 2011, I went to Fukushima, Japan, when the population was still recovering from the “triple disaster” of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident.

Today we will hear from survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake. I look forward to learning from them.

I have been inspired by those who survived disasters – and even those who did not.

One volunteer firefighter from Fukushima was with his family when the evacuation started. They wanted him to come with them to safety. But instead he rushed into danger to help others. He said, “This is my job and I cannot run away; I have to help them.”

Of course, his life, sadly, was cut short – but his legacy lives on.

Since the March 11th disaster, Japan has reached out to the world to share its lessons so that other countries will not face the same devastation. 

Japan is not alone. Thailand, Indonesia, the Netherlands, the United States, and Mozambique have all dealt effectively with water-related disasters. They have invaluable experiences with prevention, forecasting, response, recovery and reconstruction.

My five-year agenda for the United Nations includes supporting national disaster risk reduction plans.

Preparing for the worst can save lives. That is why we need early warning systems, disaster education and resilient structures.

We have an invaluable tool in the Hyogo Framework for Action. It outlines measures to reduce economic devastation, environmental cost and human suffering.

Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies,

While we work for prevention and mitigation, we must also address the fundamental threat of climate change.

I continue to call on world leaders to keep their promise to reach a global, legally binding climate change agreement by 2015.

We have to move beyond addressing the damage to investing in a low-carbon, low-emissions future. 

My Sustainable Energy for All initiative aims to help achieve cleaner, more accessible and more efficient energy around the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is the International Year of Water Cooperation. Water is a human right. It freely crosses national boundaries. Countries have to work together to manage this basic resource. 

The Year is also an opportunity to forge international partnerships that reduce the risks and impacts of water-related disasters.

This session can be part of that process – and our broader push for sustainable development.

The results of your work will be shared with the Fourth Meeting of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva in May.

And your deliberations can be part of our discussions on the global post-2015 development agenda.

I count on you to make the most of this day – and to continue your work as an essential part of our global efforts to shape a better future for all.

Thank you for your attention.