The 4th International Disaster and Risk Conference - Address by Margareta Wahlström

The 4th International Disaster and Risk Conference - Integrative Risk Management in a Changing World - Pathways to a Resilient Society, Davos, Switzerland - Address by Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction (check against delivery)

Excellencies, Colleagues,

Any worthwhile narrative on the 21st century must begin with a prologue on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and end with an epitaph on the triumph of human resilience if there is to be any narrative at all for future generations.

Current context and disaster trends

The last 12 years have given us all a preview of the future ahead, if we allow events to continue on their present course.

From the turn of this century to now, disasters have taken 1.1 million lives; destroyed a minimum of 1.3 trillion dollars of counted worth of property, and affected 2.7 billion people. The latter is almost half of the world's current population of 6 billion.

The IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) establishes explicitly which side of the debate on climate change science stands.

It is a comprehensive and integrated review of all scientific findings over the years into one compelling nexus between climate change, increasing hydro climatic hazards, socio-economic vulnerability and disaster impacts.

Yet the key message emerging from this report is positive. We have the knowledge to make the right choices about managing climate related disaster risks. In fact, we also have the knowledge to manage any hazard risk, be it hydro meteorological or geo-physical.

The danger is that there is a huge gap between our state of knowledge and resulting action. (ADB example....)

The answer to this riddle must be found quickly. Unless the trend can be changed and countries can get ahead of the accumulation of risk curve where most are now far behind, the impact on national economies with all the consequences for social stability will continue to deepen.

Many countries have made commendable progress in reducing mortality risk, at least for weather related hazards. Deaths from floods and tropical cyclones, while concentrated in Asia, are in the decline in East- Asia.Only.

Far less progress is being made addressing other disaster risks. The cost of disaster-related economic loss and damage continues to rise. Damage to housing, local infrastructure and public assets such as schools and health and other public facilities, is soaring in many low- and middle income countries.

Economic loss risk due to floods is increasing faster in countries categorized as high income or belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development than in other geographic and income regions and groups. And although GDP exposure to floods is increasing faster than GDP per capita in all regions, the risk of economic damage is only growing faster than GDP per capita in high income countries.

In addition, populations living on cyclone exposed coastlines have grown by 192% in the past 30 years. Over half the world's large cities are currently located in areas that are highly vulnerable to seismic activity. However, a recent report by Leeds University has studied these floods exposed cities and demonstrate that not all are equally vulnerable, some are more than others.

Drought risk is still poorly understood and poorly, or not at all managed; the current and unfolding crises in the Horn of Africa, Mexico, the United States, the Sahel, China and the South Pacific are but a few examples of slow onset catastrophes that are paid for by lives destroyed, costly humanitarian relief and social unrest as the global price of food staples rise untenable levels.

The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 2011 was a dramatic reminder of the potential of multi-hazard threats as we saw natural hazards turning into a technical man-made disaster to threaten communities with unimaginable consequences. The term 'mega- disasters' is often being used. While, just like 'resilience' open to interpretation due to is general contents, a few definitions found are for example;

"A mega disaster is a catastrophe that threatens very quickly to overwhelm an area's capacity to get people to safety, treat casualties, protect vital infrastructure and control panic or chaos....."

"A mega-catastrophe is an event that is global in scale and has a high degree of irreversibility--at least on relevant human time scales.

The mega-disasters are 'low probability, high impact' events. ( GAR 2009)

I would say that "probability" is increasing as long as disasters are not given higher political and economic policy attention.

The convergence of environmental, technical and socioeconomic risks seriously challenges safety, sustainable development and our imagination. It requires addressing the root causes of risk and strengthening integrated, whole of society risk management. This is a key premise of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA 2005-2015) -- Building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters.

Progress as reported in HFA monitor.

Today 133 national governments are reporting on their progress against priorities of the HFA Framework. Major progress is reported in strengthening disaster management and the institutional and legislative arrangements and mechanisms that underpin it.

Significant momentum in the implementation of the HFA is being generated through the development of regional and sub-regional strategies, frameworks, plans, and programmes. And although early warning systems can be further improved, investments in enhancing preparedness and response are paying off and weather-related disaster mortality is now declining.

Nevertheless, the 2011 Mid-Term Review of the Hyogo Framework for Action tells us that there is uneven progress in global implementation of the HFA.

Government reports reveal that while institutional advances in disaster risk reduction are taking place, there is still a systematic lack of multi hazard assessments and early warning systems that factor in social development policies. Implementation of the HFA at the local level is also slow for lack of appropriate instruments and resources.

The Mid Term Review of the HFA also asserts that integration of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction must be addressed at national and local levels through integrated plans to enhance community resilience. Progress being made though. In the Pacific region, the recognition of this interdependence has lead to the integration of two regional platforms previously one for DRR and one for climate adaptation. As of next year, these two are now one. Similarly, individual countries are moving in this direction. What prevents more rapid progress is simply political and financial mechanisms guiding the two areas of work.

Opportunities to capture.

We have the facts at hand to inform us as we look beyond 2015. We also have some solutions based on these facts.

There is an increasing amount of foreign direct investment and national private investment in infrastructure and manufacturing, agriculture, tourism and the services industry in many developing and middle income countries. These investments can be made disaster resilient.

The rapid accumulation of risk as economies grow is a fact. New investments need to incorporate disaster risk reduction and mitigation measures or exposure to risk will continue to rise. This is one lesson learned and opportunity offered. Investments can and must be more resilient.

Account for disaster losses! Collect data for planning and investments. A clearer picture of losses will facilitate more risk analysis and risk reduction modeling.

If national public investment systems can account for disaster loss risk, they can reduce losses at a scale that is impossible for stand alone disaster risk management programs
to achieve.

And if the public and private sector should abandon their traditional hands off approach towards each other, societies and communities would benefit greatly from loss and disaster reduction generated by a truly powerful partnership. The great potential enhancement of disaster recovery in such a partnership are self evident.

Reducing risk and vulnerability in this century requires boldness and the incorporation of development mechanisms such as national public investment planning systems, social protection, national and local infrastructure investments if risks are to be reduced and resilience strengthened.

Most governments have not yet developed coordinated and coherent action on disaster risk reduction across sectors and between central and local governments. The future calls for transparent multi-stakeholder implementation and policy planning by governments - one of the key themes here today at Davos as well.

Transparency spelled out is a series of accountability measures that will guide government, public policy and create public awareness as well as support for disaster risk reduction policies.

A key lesson learned for the future is that the involvement if not central positioning of local governments and communities in the design and implementation of disaster risk reduction programmes yields practical and positive results.

The principle of local government leadership is slowly taking rootin many countries . This is evident from the rapid success of UNISDR's World Disaster Reduction Campaign - Making Cities Resilient: My City is Getting Ready which now has buy in from 1,057 cities ranging from some of the world's largest capitals to small municipalities.

Yet despite this response, tapping into the expertise and leadership of local governments and communities is a concept that is still far from being universally applied. Not enough resources are allocated to local governments for disaster risk management, and there is very little guidance or coordination from central bodies. Most disasters are local in impact and has high impact on the resilience of local communities.

The recording of disaster losses informed by the vulnerability of each region, country or city is a methodology that is only just beginning to take root. This must be accelerated and institutionalized.

Standardization and compatibility will accelerate action.

Institutions and researchers of a number of countries and in private sector are interested in disaster loss and risk analysis. But unfortunately, they use different tools to systematize the information on disasters.

This dispersed information must be compiled, made compatible and analyzed. But it must also be geographically contextualized.

Indeed there is no scarcity of good practices to inform evolving responses to disasters. There is a huge and growing body of excellent evidence of what works. It is hard though, to offer transferable knowledge as the case study literature is so waste it is impossible to overview -- and there is far too little investment in synthesis and capturing the astonishing progress made by an increasing number of countries around the world.

In 2015, countries and many other actors and specialists in disaster risk will meet to determine what the next disaster risk reduction framework should be like, we now all have the opportunity over the next two years to synthesize, to focus, to project what will determine the disaster risk ,pace ,speed and impact in the coming two-three decades. What will be the determining factors? We know the hazards, the technology for mitigation is known and willing to develop further, the economics are increasingly evident and well understood. The obstacle though remains in recognizing disasters as complex part of a highly interdependent world that will exacerbate and multiply the impact of the totality of other weaknesses and vulnerability -- at the same time as the frequency and severity of certain hazards are certain to increase.
The nexus is in the constellation of decision that often lies with a few decision-makers who will consider and be guided by:
1)Their knowledge and 'belief' in disasters ( based on history of disasters in their own locality);
2)The credible and understandable plan of what it would take to reduce the impact of such events; and in what time frame that could happen;
3)The financial return on such an investment -- which requires a credible basis of data on direct and indirect losses of similar disasters --local or nearby.
4)The period of time assessed to stay in political office keeping the accountability and responsibility) and understanding and recognizing the political impact of a mayor disaster in locality.
5) Any political reward likely through public demand or recognition.
Building on the mid-term review, the national progress reports and multiple conversations, and recent experiences of how weak governance and fragmentation lead to the unimaginable impacts we have seen in several disasters, these would be the areas requiring focus. In an era where lack of trust in public authorities is repeatedly in evidence in all parts of the world, strengthen these areas would yield the most impact in safety and sustainability. Governance and institutional qualities are at the center of potential for rapid progress.

A set of values and principles is another potential springboard for the development of an international agreement. Principles and values for disaster risk reduction will contribute to meaningful cooperation that will boost sustainable development efforts.

As in other international cross-cutting fields, the development of standards will help to support the implementation of high-quality practice, especially in a field as multi faceted as disaster risk reduction.

Whatever form a post-2015 framework takes it must scale-up disaster risk reduction efforts that can be measured against development progress and sustainability.

Discussions that define a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction need to be broad, consultative and inclusive of all stakeholders -.

IDRC Davos 2012 is one opportunity to collectively debate and exchange knowledge and experience about the risks confronting the world.

The convergence of complex risks calls for a multidisciplinary approach that combines the best expertise, acumen, and wisdom to manage threats and build and strengthen the resilience of communities. This is a key premise of the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015) and the future.

What science and technology might contribute is much more focus on and evidence on the long-term economic and social impact of disasters -- 15 -20 years is a reasonable period of time. Too little hard, documented evidence exists today.

Further, more integrated, inter sectoral economics; governments and business today measure and collect data on almost anything we can think of ( except disaster losses); when bringing these together- for example loss of health, loss of education opportunities, agricultural losses and disasters -- the potential for gains and profits will motivate policy changes and investments.

Imagination is required to project how risk will develop in 20-40 years. 'Not easy' says the cautious however we depend on bold ideas for a sustainable future.

When future generations judge us, let them do so with climate change and disasters as footnotes to a more substantive narrative on the preparedness of our age as well as our collective determination.

Thank you...
Regional Platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction take place from Africa to the Pacific Regional Platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction take place from Africa to the Pacific.
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