Asia-Pacific Countries Urged to Invest Now in Disaster Preparedness

Asia-Pacific countries need to accelerate investment in disaster preparedness for the future – and they need to start doing this now.

This was one of the recommendations from a high-level discussion held in Kuala Lumpur today, with the aim of improving the Asia-Pacific region’s preparedness to natural disasters.

The “High-Level Round Table on Resource Mobilization,” organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) at the Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction , was jointly chaired by Bhutan’s Minister of Home and Cultural Affairs, Lyonpo Minjur Dorji, and Senator Loren Legarda of the Philippines. It drew its conclusions from the past experiences of a number of Asia-Pacific countries that were presented at the conference – such as the Sichuan earthquake in China last May – and consideration of future challenges, such as the effects of climate change on the scale and likelihood of disasters.

“Some of the disasters we face will be made worse by the impacts of climate change,” said Faumuina Tiatia Liuga, Samoa’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment. He also expressed concern that an increase in cyclones, droughts and floods resulting from climate change – as well as a long-term rise in sea levels – will threaten many Pacific islands

“To address the challenges we are facing, we really need a paradigm shift. We need to give higher priority to disaster preparedness – not just response – and allocate more resources to it,” said Bhutan’s Mr. Lyonpo.

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) can include measures like early warning systems, earthquake-proofing buildings, and ensuring schools and hospitals are built outside of high-risk disaster zones. The round table heard examples of how, by investing in DRR before a disaster strikes, governments have been better able to respond and recover afterwards, saving not only lives but reducing the long term economic effects of disasters.

Investments for DRR are more effective if we bring “the right information to the right people at the right location at the right time,” said Mr. V.S. Hegde, of the Indian Space Research Organization, pointing to a need for more knowledge about where and how often disasters are likely to strike.

Studies from the World Bank, The Asian Development Bank and the US Government have shown that every dollar invested in disaster preparedness not only saves lives, but can also save between four and seven dollars in humanitarian relief and reconstruction costs after a disaster happens. “With this level of returns, these investments may be some of the best bargains available,” said Ms. Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP’s Executive Secretary, in her message delivered at the Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction’s opening on Monday.

At its closing today, the Conference adopted a declaration that included recommendations to strengthen multi-stakeholder partnerships and resource sharing arrangements between countries in Asia and the Pacific, to increase knowledge of human and economic disaster impacts to guide and promote greater investments, and to earmark a percentage of humanitarian funding for disaster risk reduction.

The Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction was hosted by the Government of Malaysia, with support from the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and ESCAP amongst others.