UN Calls for Governments to make disaster risk reduction integral part of longer-term development plans

Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction, Third Session

Building a more resilient Asia-Pacific is the key focus of a three-day meeting that began today at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok, Thailand, bringing together senior government officials from more than 25 countries.

This month’s devastating Super Typhoon Haiyan is the most recent example of a relentless series of shocks that has battered the Asia-Pacific region over the last few years, highlighting the crucial need for a more comprehensive approach to building resilience so that countries can withstand, adapt to and recover from natural disasters.

Convened by ESCAP as part of a series of events on disaster risk reduction this week, the Third Session of the Committee on Disaster Reduction brings together policymakers and experts to discuss how to integrate disaster risk reduction into development plans, poverty reduction strategies and budgets across all levels of governments.

In opening remarks, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary acknowledged the destruction and desolation wrought by natural disasters: “Typhoon Haiyan killed thousands of children, women, and men, affecting millions of others. Once more, our poorest and most vulnerable communities have seen their hard-won development gains devastated by natural disasters.

“There will always be natural hazards,” she added. “Our Asia-Pacific experience shows that we should expect these in greater numbers, and greater strength, in years to come. However, hazards become disasters in the absence of development, and without adequate investment in risk reduction. For greater resilience to become a reality, governments need to make disaster risk reduction an integral part of longer-term development plans, across multiple sectors.”

During the opening, delegates observed a minute of silence in memory of those who perished in the recent disaster in the Philippines.

“The devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan demonstrates the urgent need to transform the concept of resilience into actionable programmes at the regional, national and local levels,” said H.E. Ms. Jocelyn S. Batoon-Garcia, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to ESCAP, Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines. “Typhoon Haiyan may have crushed our homes, [...] but we will build back better lives, infrastructure and communities."

Delegates from across Ministries of Finance and Planning, Environment, Natural Disasters and key regional Space Agencies will also focus on developing effective early warning and monitoring systems that make use of space and other technologies.

Seismic Station ownership transfer to Myanmar Government

ESCAP also marked the transfer of ownership of the seismic station in Sittwe to the Government of Myanmar. The station was built in 2009-2010 through a project financed by the ESCAP Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness and implemented by the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia (RIMES).

Located close to the fault zone where the Burma tectonic plate meets the India plate, it has a central place in tsunami warning systems – not just nationally but also regionally.

The Sittwe station uses highly sophisticated sensors to detect earthquakes in Myanmar and across the region, and automatically sends this information to national and regional centers for further analysis.

“The seismic station in Sittwe helps ensure that vital information on potentially tsunami-generating earthquakes is quickly shared, so that timely warnings can be issued to save lives and property,” said Dr. Heyzer at the handover. “The station is a practical example of how Governments and international organizations can work together in partnership in order to build resilience, protect property and save lives.”

Dr. Hri Nei Thiam, Director-General, Department for Meteorology and Hydrology, Myanmar echoed this sentiment and thanked the international community for its contribution in helping to build the new station:

“The seismic station in Sittwe fills an important gap in the regional and national early warning system. [However,] despite the good progress made in building resilience in Myanmar, there are still significant gaps. Therefore, on behalf of the people and the Government of Myanmar, I would also like to express our gratitude to ESCAP for the new package of additional capacity-building support.”

In his opening address to the Committee, H.E. Mr. Visarn Techateerawat, Deputy Minister of Interior, Royal Government of Thailand, highlighted the spirit of regional solidarity underpinning the Trust Fund, and invited other governments and donors to build a strong alliance for additional investments in early warning systems across the region.