800-year-old lesson from Japan

The day-long special thematic session of the General Assembly on the subject of water-related disasters included Vuk Jeremić (right), President of the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly, who addressed the opening of the session with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan, Honorary President of the Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation; and Han Seung-soo, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea and Founding Chair of the Advisory Board’s High Level Expert Panel on Water and Disasters.
 
By Maria Hasan

NEW YORK, 13 March 2013 - Reaching back hundreds of years to learn the lessons of history combined with the best of modern know-how is the ideal mix to build more resilient communities and nations.

Japanese Crown Prince Nahurito called for a blend of the old and the new for effective disaster risk reduction at the Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters, convened in New York by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The Crown Prince referred to the 800-year-old essay Hojo-ki by Kamo no Chōmei, one of his country's oldest records of disasters, which describes the occurrence of earthquakes and tsunamis and their adverse socio-economic impact on communities.

"If we combine available means -- such as early warning systems, education and governance -- with lessons from history, we can create a society more resilient to disasters," he said.

Japan's global leadership in this realm is set to continue with its hosting of the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction to agree a post-2015 global agreement to replace the current Hyogo Framework.

In support of these efforts, the UN Secretary-General reiterated that his "five-year agenda for the United Nations included supporting national disaster risk reduction plans."

Eighty-five per cent of all disasters are related to an excess or lack of water. In the last 40 years, the population living in flood-prone river basins has increased 114 per cent and the number of people located on coastlines exposed to cyclones has risen almost 200 per cent.

Scott Edelman, Senior Vice President of AECOM, stated: "Data collected from global storm databases indicate that water-related disasters have killed 1.3 million people and caused USD 2 trillion worth of damages since 1992."

A common theme throughout the session was how disasters reverse development gains and inhibit sustainable progress. The Crown Prince of Orange, Willem Alexander, who will ascend to the Netherlands throne next month, stated, "One water-related disaster can wash away years of progress, inhibiting the ability of communities to reach their (Millennium Development Goals) MDG targets."

The President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremić, highlighted the role of 'risk drivers' that are changing the nature of disasters. "The impact of extreme weather events is being multiplied by unplanned urbanization, increasing population pressures, and declining eco-systems," he said.

UNISDR Chief Margareta Wahlström emphasised that "governments alone cannot be held responsible for addressing risks; the imperative lies with all societal actors including communities and businesses."

Mr Edelman also stressed the importance of the private sector's role in identifying and assessing risks, and then communicating them effectively to communities so that mitigation efforts are strengthened.

Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International encouraged governments to "plan better and listen more" to increase the capacity of public workers to address disaster risks.

The discussions last week in New York help pave the way for deliberations at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in May, in Geneva which will have a featured event, "Drought Resilience in a Changing Climate".
The United Nations General Assembly requested UNISDR to facilitate the development of a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction The United Nations General Assembly requested UNISDR to facilitate the development of a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction.
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