It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this High-Level Event on responding to the impacts of El Niño and mitigating recurring climate risks.
The lives and livelihoods of millions of people—women, girls, men and boys—around the world have been turned upside down by the extreme weather events linked to this powerful El Niño.
From the dry corridor in Central America, to the Horn of Africa and Southern Africa, to the Pacific Islands and South-East Asia, El Niño has caused droughts and floods that have devastated communities, undermining the livelihoods of more than 60 million people.
I myself witnessed the effects in Ethiopia, where El Niño has affected millions of people, testing their resilience and in some cases increasing vulnerability and requiring special assistance to avoid food insecurity and malnutrition. I appreciated the Ethiopian Government’s significant and well-targeted efforts to support people and ensure their productivity as they weathered the crisis.
Just two days ago, I passed through Malawi. During my one-hour stay at the airport I had the opportunity of meeting the [former] Foreign Minister, [George Chaponda, current Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Affairs] and our UN country team, and I met at that time with Ms. Kyung-Wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General of OCHA, who was there on a fact-finding mission. I was told at that time that Ertharin Cousin [Executive Director] of WFP would be arriving the following morning. I heard that she is now going to brief on the situation in Malawi about El Niño. [Mr. Chaponda] and the UN country team and Ms. Kyung-Wha Kang, OCHA Assistant Secretary General, expressed very serious concern about what is happening. Then, I travelled to South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda. In all these areas people were appealing to the United Nations and the international community about this very serious impact of El Niño.
There have been many warnings that human-induced climate change may interact with El Niño in ways we have never before experienced.
We should expect future events to be less predictable, more frequent and more severe, starting with La Niña, which is likely to begin towards the end of 2016 and extend into 2017.
The challenges to our response go far beyond humanitarian action.
Extreme weather events reverse development gains. People and communities cannot escape poverty or banish hunger if their resources are wiped out by floods, storms or droughts every few years.
Even when malnutrition is treated and children survive, they can be affected for life by stunting and impaired development. This has serious implications for education, the ability of people to make a living, and the opportunities for societies and nations to prosper and develop in a sustainable way.
For many of the poorest and most vulnerable, extreme weather events linked to climate change could put the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at risk.
This unprecedented challenge requires unprecedented changes in the way we work.
It is crucial that we learn the lessons of this El Niño. We must prevent, prepare for and mitigate the effects of climate change, which has the greatest impact on those who have least responsibility for causing it.
We must bring together humanitarian, development and climate-resilience elements to achieve common goals and collective outcomes.
We must ensure that investments are made early in disaster risk reduction and building resilience, and that they focus on the most vulnerable people to change their lives and to move from delivering aid to ending need.
These changes were endorsed at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul two months ago.
They are outlined in my Agenda for Humanity, and in the commitment to transcend humanitarian and development divides agreed by heads of key UN humanitarian agencies at the summit.
Working together to reduce disaster risk was an important thread running through last year’s political achievements: the Sendai Framework, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
This new way of working presents a challenge, but also provides an opportunity for progress.
Many Governments have shown great leadership in driving a coherent and effective emergency response to El Niño, allocating significant resources of their own.
Others were able to reduce the risks of El Niño and mitigate its impacts so that they did not require international assistance.
Still others benefited from international solidarity expressed through resources from the Central Emergency Response Fund. CERF has provided $120 million to humanitarian partners for life-saving activities linked to El Niño in 19 countries.
We must learn from these successful practices.
We must scale up our response and share the burden of climate change more equitably, demonstrating greater solidarity with those in need.
I call on affected Governments, donors, civil society, development and humanitarian actors, and our private sector partners to support the efforts of my two Special Envoys for El Niño and Climate, Her Excellency the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and His Excellency Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya, in raising awareness and bringing greater resources to bear.
Looking forward, I call on all parties to honour the promise of the 2030 Agenda and the commitments made at the World Humanitarian Summit.
The task is enormous, but together our resources are vast and our will to act is strong.
We cannot afford to fail.
Thank you for your commitment.