UN General Assembly opens with focus on disasters and prevention

By David Singh

NEW YORK, 22 September: At the opening of the General Debate of the 66th session of the UN General Assembly yesterday, incoming Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser identified disaster prevention as one of the key issues that will “help frame our work this session”.

Al-Nasser said a particular priority during the current session would be focusing the Assembly's attention on the humanitarian crisis gripping Somalia.

“I will work closely with Member States to further improve prevention and reduce risk and vulnerability to natural hazards,” he said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who opened the 66th session, said that just two weeks ago, he had visited Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, where villagers had told him they feared the threats posed by climate change. They said waters were washing into their homes, and one day they might be swept away entirely. A young girl had asked him: “What can the UN do for us?” “Today, I pose her question to you — leaders of the world. What can we do? How can we help our people find greater peace, prosperity and justice in a world of crises?

Speaking about the Great Japan East Earthquake on 11 March this year, the Secretary-General reminded delegates that nuclear accidents such as Fukushima did not respect national borders. “We need global action. We need strong international safety standards to prevent future disasters”. He stressed.

Mongolian President, Elbegdorj Tsakhia said mega-disasters were occurring all too often. He said: “Climate change, drought, land degradation, desertification have emerged as one of the gravest challenges facing humankind. It is a matter of great concern that 2 billion people around the globe and about 50 per cent of agricultural land are affected by desertification, land degradation and drought.” He called on the international community to set up an intergovernmental panel to conduct a comprehensive study on effects and identify action-oriented recommendations for the affected countries.

Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa which will host the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in November, said: “As leaders we are accountable to the global citizenry, the ordinary people that suffer daily from the impacts of climate change. They hold high expectations from their leaders to be responsible and to find effective solutions to the threat that climate change presents to their livelihood, quality of life, dignity, and in many cases, their very survival.”

Guatemala’s President, Alvaro Colom Caballeros, noted that it was difficult to promote development when repeatedly facing grave disasters - lately, at a rate of at least one major event every year. “We attribute this, at least in part, to climate change, given the high vulnerability of the Central American Isthmus to the effects of this phenomenon. That is why we insist on the imperative that humanity close ranks to defend our common habitat: our planet.” He added that up to now, the progress achieved has been minimal, and he called on the international community to redouble efforts to adopt tangible actions at the Durban COP.
VI Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas, Cartagena, Colombia 20-22 June 2018 VI Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas, Cartagena, Colombia 20-22 June 2018.
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