Asia-Pacific Governments Can Save Lives and Money By Investing in Disaster Preparedness

Investing in disaster risk reduction – preventive measures that reduce the damage disasters cause – not only makes sense morally, but also financially, in the disaster-prone Asia-Pacific region.

That was one of the key messages heard today at a major conference in Kuala Lumpur, aimed at reducing the socially and financially devastating impact of disasters in Asia and the Pacific.

Hosted by the Government of Malaysia, with support from the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) amongst others, the Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction brings Asia-Pacific government officials together over three days to develop partnerships and regional cooperation for disaster preparedness and early warning systems.

Studies by 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 $4 and $7 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 a message to the conference. She added that, "It has become increasingly clear that disasters are setting back efforts in development – they can cripple the economy, destroy infrastructure, and plunge more people into poverty.”

In 2007, 37 per cent of the world’s disasters occurred in Asia and the Pacific, yet the region sustained 90 per cent of all reported victims and almost half of the economic damage caused globally. Disasters affected the region even more in 2008, with Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the earthquake in Sichuan Province, China.

“From an economic perspective, disasters exert an enormous toll,” said Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dato’ Sri Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, at the conference’s opening. However, the figures of economic loss “fail to adequately capture the impact of disasters on the poor, who suffer the greatest cost in terms of livelihoods and rebuilding their shattered communities and infrastructure.”

On Wednesday, ESCAP – the regional arm of the United Nations – will hold a high-level discussion focused on ways in which governments can invest more effectively in disaster preparedness measures like early warning systems.

The Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction has attracted high-ranking officials from over 40 countries, as well as international organizations like the United Nations and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The previous two ministerial conferences were hosted by the Governments of China and India in 2005 and 2007, respectively, and the Fourth Ministerial Conference has been planned for 2010.