Opening Statement at Opening of Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction, Fifth Session

Delivered at Opening of Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction, Fifth Session in Bangkok, Thailand

His Excellency, Pol. Lt. Gen. Nadhapit Snidvongs, Vice Minister for the Interior, Royal Thai Government,

His Excellency, Lt. Gen. Omar Mahmood Hayat, Chairman of National Disaster Management Authority, Government of Pakistan

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

In 2017, we have once again witnessed tragic disasters. Typhoon Hato cut across Hong Kong and Macau, and then stretched all the way to Vietnam 1. Torrential monsoon rains descended on Bangladesh, India and Nepal. Tropical cyclones Harvey, Irma and Maria hit the Caribbean and southern parts of the United States. Mexico suffered an earthquake which registered 7.1 Richter scale. Too many lives have been lost. The devastating scale of the damage, and its impact on livelihoods and the global economy cannot be understated. It has reversed development gains and jeopardized the outcomes of many years of work by communities, governments and development organizations.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals recognize the ravaging and all-pervasive impacts natural disasters can have. They incorporate the principle of disaster risk resilience, so central to the broader objective of leaving no-one behind. Disaster resilience approaches, frameworks and tools must protect everyone, including those who live in the so called last mile, those who are vulnerable and digitally disconnected.

Protecting livelihoods from the impact of disasters must move up the policy agenda. There has to be a recognition that even the most efficient early warning systems may not alone be enough as disasters can strip poor people of their livelihoods, push them back into absolute poverty or trap families in poverty over generations. Innovative sources of disaster risk financing are therefore essential to support early warning systems and to build resilience.

Allow me to highlight three insights and provide two policy proposals from the upcoming 2017 Asia Pacific Disaster Report, the APDR.

First, as the region continues to develop quickly, risk appears to be outpacing resilience.

The greatest impacts of disasters are in countries which have the least capacity to prepare or respond to them effectively. Between 2000 and 2015, the low and lower middle-income countries in the region experienced almost 15 times more disaster related deaths than the region’s high-income countries. Beyond the terrible human cost, our research indicates that over the SDG implementation period 40 per cent of global economic losses from disasters will be in Asia and the Pacific, while the region accounts for around 36 per cent of global GDP. The greatest burden of the losses will be borne by Small Island Developing States with average annual losses close to 4 per cent of their GDP. The least developed countries are expected to bear annual losses of around 2.5 per cent of GDP.

Second, the poorest and most vulnerable people are disproportionately affected by these losses.

The region accounts for over half of the world’s absolute poor. They are the most vulnerable and disasters can destroy their meagre assets and income. The poorest populations cannot use savings or assets to cope with unforeseen adversity. After a disaster, the poorer households face a range of challenges linked to reduced food availability, children being forced to no longer attend school and the forced sale of assets to meet immediate needs. These disproportionate impacts widen socio-economic disparities, exacerbate existing inequalities, and trap people in poverty from one generation to the next. The report highlights each disaster in the region leads to a 0.13 point increase in the Gini coefficient. Interactions between disasters, poverty and inequality can exacerbate economic conditions and social fault lines which aggravate social exclusion and create fertile ground for conflict.

Third, climate variability is exacerbating disaster risks.
The frequency and characteristics of hazards are changing due to climate change. This makes traditional risk analysis insufficient. Using climate scenarios in 2030, the APDR shows that many buildings and critical infrastructure will have to cope with conditions that will be radically different. Climate risk scenarios also warn of considerable future uncertainties due to an alarming geographical shift in drought risk in South Asia and South-east Asia, as well as an increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones in the Pacific. The flood risk in transboundary river-basins of the region is likely to increase 2 to 6 times under moderate and severe climate scenarios.

To respond to these challenges, ESCAP’s work offers a set of possible policy approaches and responses. Today, I would like to focus on two policy responses which through regional cooperation should be scaled up to support the region’s resilience.

We should continue to invest in Regional Early Warning Systems that serve as a public good of which the benefits cut across borders. Countries should take advantage of the rapid innovations in space applications. ESCAP’s Regional Space Applications Programme for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific supports low-capacity, high risk countries to enhance their access to space based data for disaster risk reduction. Countries can also invest in building capacities to effectively use improved models and technologies in climate science forecasting. The recently established Asia-Pacific Centre for Disaster Information Management will provide member countries with advisory services and technical cooperation on transboundary disasters such as earthquakes, drought, and sand and dust storms. With sufficient funding, the ESCAP Trust Fund on Tsunami, Disaster, and Climate Preparedness will continue to promote multi-hazard early warning systems and deepen regional cooperation in anticipatory policy actions, including innovative financing for disaster risk reduction.

We should enhance the ongoing dialogue in the Asia-Pacific region on exploring new innovations in risk transfer mechanisms.

Early warning systems - while necessary, are not enough to rapidly counteract the impacts of disasters. Developing cost-effective financing is needed to decrease the existing resilience gaps. Parametric insurance solutions are a good example of cost effective vehicles for mitigating disaster losses. Yet because payouts are based on threshold triggers, scaled up adoption across the region will require considerable investment to improve accuracy and standardization of hazard risk data. Regional catastrophe risk pools have proven to be an attractive and cost-effective strategy to cover disaster risk exposure in other parts of the world. But these mechanisms remain underexploited in the region. The absence of an institutionalized insurance culture and adequate post disaster financing threaten our economic and developmental achievements. Promoting deeper collaboration among countries in the region on disaster risk financing is an ESCAP priority.

To conclude, the story of disasters in our region is one of shockingly high levels of damage and loss of life. But it is also one of a region using measures such as risk-sensitive investments, disaster risk transfer mechanisms, resilient infrastructure, and better preparedness initiatives. Going forward, we cannot lose this momentum.

This Committee offers a platform to strengthen existing mechanisms and research for disaster risk reduction. To systematically use all the tools, innovations, and technological advances available at our disposal, I propose establishing an Asia-Pacific Disaster Resilience Network that can bring together all elements of ESCAP’s current and future work in this area in a coherent manner. It will support the implementation of ESCAP’s Regional Roadmap on the SDGs and help prepare the next Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development which will be held in March 2018.

As we strive to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in the region, let us take full advantage of the Asia Pacific Disaster Resilience Network to support the ongoing efforts of ESCAP, its partners, and the member States. As the regional arm of the United Nations, ESCAP stands ready to provide its multilateral platform to share knowledge, promote capacity building, engage in substantive policy dialogue and build consensus on the way forward towards our common goals.

I emphasize again- disaster risk reduction in Asia Pacific is inextricably linked with sustainable development. The convergence of the global agendas offers us unprecedented opportunities towards building resilience in the region. My hope is that this meeting will represent an important step in our collective journey towards a future where sustainable development and disaster risk reduction are addressed in a holistic, integrated manner.

I look forward to the outcomes of your deliberations and wish you a successful session.
Thank you.

1Time, 28 Aug, 2017 -