Sendai, Japan

14 March 2015

Secretary-General's remarks at UN High-Level Event: "Uniting Nations, People and Action for Resilience"

I am honoured to open this important meeting bringing together all of you.

We are here to declare our support for disaster risk reduction.

As I said in my remarks earlier this morning, as also repeated by Achim Steiner, sustainability starts in Sendai.

This is just a starting point in this very important [series of] continuing milestones this year.

Today is the real beginning of a year of pivotal global conferences.

All of you are involved, and I thank you for all your commitment to working together with the United Nations.

You are pressing to accelerate progress on the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] by the end of this year.

You are in the middle of setting a vision shaping the post-2015 development agenda – along with commitments and also we are working very hard to have a very meaningful universal climate change agreement by December this year. All these things should happen, should be realized, within this year.

This is quite a historic push for transformative change in our world.

Disaster risk reduction in this process is essential to leaving no one behind.

This is our catchphrase for sustainable development.

The United Nations is resolved to realize our vision of a life of dignity for all.

This is an enormous challenge in our world of extreme weather events.

Disasters are more frequent and more intense. I have just seen some images coming from Vanuatu that I received from the Executive Director of ESCAP [UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific]. We are receiving all this information and she has instructed her response team to be there as soon as [they are] available.

Over the past two decades, more than 200 million people on average were affected by disasters, which take lives, cause health problems and exacerbate poverty. I am especially concerned about people with disabilities and older people.

You have seen the tragic human toll. You know the staggering economic price tag which I am not going to repeat again.

Our staff rush in life-saving activities when a disaster strikes. At the same time, we help people to rebuild and reconstruct. This is what we have seen in Sendai now.

We have to do much more than provide aid to earthquake zones – we have to make buildings more resilient. We have to do more than fund development projects – we have to make that sure they strengthen vulnerable communities.

Disaster risk reduction is at the nexus of development aid, relief and environment.

It is critical to prepare high-risk societies so that a natural disaster does not turn into an all-out catastrophe.

Communities understand this. They want the tools to save lives. We will succeed when we empower people.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This conference is the first milestone in 2015. We have to do all that we have set out as our goals: financing for development conference in Addis Ababa and climate change and special summit in September in New York to adopt the sustainable development agenda with a set of sustainable development goals.

In this, the UN Plan of Action on Disaster Risk Reduction for Resilience leads the way.

I thank you for adopting it in 2013.

That Plan calls for more support to efforts driven by countries and communities.

It commits the UN to scaling up our capacity-building efforts.

We will also make the best use of our resources.

And we will emphasize the importance of disaster risk across our policies.

Our UN family will give meaning to this conference with a strong commitment.

We cannot stop disasters but we can anticipate the risks and reduce them.

Everywhere preventive diplomacy, preventive measures, really are the best way but they do not pay attention until something really happens.

We can cut through red tape and put people first.

We can contribute to resilience.

We can build on the success of the Hyogo Framework for Action and rise to new challenges.

That will create a safer future for all people.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Japan is such a valuable host because this country has lived through serious disasters and shared its lessons with the world.

I am deeply grateful to Japan for offering inspiration and hope.

This morning, we heard from Prime [Shinzo] Abe, announcing that [Japan] will provide $4 billion with training for 40,000 people. I thanked him in person during lunchtime. Helen Clark also recognized this publicly. This is what we are very much grateful for – Japanese leadership.

For me, I visited this area after the earthquake hit.

I will never forget my visit to Fukushima Minami High School. I expected when I met a group of school girls and boys, they were high school students, I naturally expected, when they have lost their families and homes and friends, they would naturally expect support and help from the United Nations. But what was inspiring me was that they never asked for any help. In fact, they were saying that they wanted to work for the international community to help other people, just to help avoid that kind of tragedy which may come to other people.


That was most inspiring to me. This is, I think, the spirit of the Japanese people. That is still very vivid in my memory.


Now, why are we here? We are here to reaffirm the international community’s resolve that we have to show solidarity, we have to unite to prepare this ambitious framework so that we will be, first of all, able to prevent maximum disaster risk. And when it happens, we have to mobilize all our resources and solidarity with those people. This is what we are here for, and I hope that this conference will come out with a very ambitious, very effective document, framework.


I thank you for your commitment. Thank you.