Opening Statement at ASEAN@50: Celebrating Achievements in Regional Cooperation, Innovations and Lessons Learnt in Disaster Risk Reduction

Delivered at ASEAN@50: Celebrating Achievements in Regional Cooperation, Innovations and Lessons Learnt in Disaster Risk Reduction in Bangkok, Thailand

Distinguished delegates,

Today is the International Day on Disaster Awareness and the fiftieth anniversary of ASEAN. This provides a good opportunity to celebrate ASEAN’s achievements in disaster risk reduction and to look at how we can build on these. The commitment of ASEAN Member States to assist each other during times of crisis means ASEAN has a vital role to play in building resilience.

The Secretariats of ASEAN and the United Nations, at the annual meeting at the UN Headquarters on September 21st, acknowledged the strong cooperation and collaboration between both organizations. Both sides recognised the progress in the implementation of the Plan of Action as a reflection of the commitment to work together for mutual benefit and to share experiences. The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, our own ESCAP Regional Roadmap for SDG implementation, and our ASEAN-UN Joint Strategic Plan of Action on Disaster Management provide a solid basis for further action. This has been the focus of discussions over the past two days in the Fifth Session of the Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction. Allow me to give you my take on the issue.

But first, let me express my appreciation to Dr Malano, and the Government of the Philippines as the Chair of ASEAN this year, for the partnership with ESCAP. As a country heavily exposed to the destructive potential of natural forces, the Philippines has made formidable strides towards promoting the agenda of disaster resilience at all levels - national, ASEAN and beyond. I would also like to thank the Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN, for the support provided. ASEAN has grown into an indispensable partner for the building of disaster resilience. It has a vital role in our interconnected, interdependent Asia-Pacific region. To promote this role, ESCAP is a natural partner.


The ASEAN subregion is the most disaster prone of all Asia-Pacific’s subregions. Since 2000, it has recorded 362,000 deaths and 259 million people affected, largely from earthquakes, storms and floods. Economic costs are estimated at US$5 billion per year. This figure is likely to increase with growing population, urbanization, and sustained GDP growth - as more people and assets become exposed to natural hazards.

Drought is increasingly problematic. For this reason, ASEAN and ESCAP are jointly undertaking a study on drought endorsed by the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management. Generally known as a slow-onset disaster, its associated risks may not always be well understood. Yet drought has transboundary implications. Regionally coordinated joint actions are essential to develop effective resilient policies, programmes and interventions. Drought is an important driver of conflict in Asia-Pacific, and mitigating drought risk is closely linked to the conflict prevention agenda. Our research shows that approximately 80% of all reported conflict incidents in Asia-Pacific have occurred in what is classified as degraded land.
The 2017 edition of the APDR indicates policy makers do not always adequately appreciate the economic value of disaster risk reduction. Yet globally, disaster risk reduction interventions have an estimated rate of return between four and seven times their cost. To reduce the average annual loss for Asia and the Pacific of US$160 billion by 10 per cent by 2030, the average annual investment required would be between US$2.3 billion and US$4 billion. This makes a clear case for all new projects to be disaster resistant - not only in their structural components, but also where their impacts on society, livelihoods and the environment are concerned.

Developing economies in the Asia-Pacific region typically struggle to finance reconstruction and relief. The already limited insurance penetration has not kept pace with economic growth. In our efforts to meet the Agenda 2030, it is crucial to look for innovative ways to fund disaster risk reduction and to transfer this risk when possible. Governments and other actors have also considered ways of sharing risks – both within and between countries.

One technical cooperation and disaster risk reduction funding measure made available by ESCAP is the Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness. Since 2005, thanks to visionary leadership and commitment of the founding partners Thailand and Sweden, the Trust Fund has been a highly effective vehicle for promoting South-South and regional cooperation, strengthening capacities and building resilience to natural disasters. The Trust Fund has helped test innovative solutions. It promoted the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System, or RIMES, which helps generate and use better early warning information such as seasonal forecasts and advisory warnings.

Early warning is an area where regional cooperation can be particularly effective. Multi-hazard early warning systems are a public good. Continuous investments to ensure long term sustainability and regional interoperability of these systems, are essential. While considerable progress has been achieved in strengthening regional early warning systems for tsunamis and tropical cyclones, critical gaps still exist for other hazards, despite the technology being largely available.

These are just some of the positive outcomes achieved by the Trust Fund and its partners. All ESCAP Member States and partners are invited to consider supporting the Trust Fund as an innovative tool for financing ‘people-centred’ disaster risk reduction for the benefit of high-risk, low capacity countries. I hope this event will stimulate a useful exchange of perspectives on how we can strengthen solidarity within ASEAN and the broader Asia-Pacific region to address current and future disaster risks, in all their forms - natural and man-made.

I thank you for your attention.