Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction in Asia-Pacific Development Planning

Opening Statement As Delivered by Dr. Noeleen Heyzer
United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Executive Secretary of
the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and Special Adviser of the United Nations Secretary-General for Timor-Leste

ESCAP Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction, third session
Bangkok, Thailand, 27 November 2013

Your Excellency, Ms. Fathimath Thasneem, Deputy Minister,
National Disaster Management Centre, Maldives

Your Excellency Mr. Visarn Techateerawat,
Deputy Minister of Interior, Royal Thai Government,

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,


It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the Third Session of the Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction. We are grateful to the Honorable Deputy Ministers for inaugurating this session.

I would like to start by echoing the statement and the sentiments we just heard from the distinguished Ambassador of the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan killed thousands of children, women, and men, affecting millions of others. It has made crystal clear the importance and timeliness of our discussions this week in the Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction.

Once more, our poorest and most vulnerable communities have seen their hard-won development gains devastated by natural disasters, which continue to become more frequent, more intense, and unpredictable in our region.

I would like to again express the condolences and best wishes from every member of our UN family, to the families and communities who have been affected by, and are currently recovering from, Typhoon Haiyan and other natural disasters.

Our responsibility to them goes well beyond the critical efforts to assist in rebuilding lives and communities. Our long-term obligation is to ensure that the countries of our region are best prepared for the risks of disasters, and better empowered to recover from their impacts when they strike.

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

Disaster Risk Reduction & Development Planning

There will always be natural hazards. Our Asia-Pacific experience shows that we should expect these in greater numbers, and greater strength, in years to come. The truly important question, however, is how best to prevent these hazards from becoming disasters?

We cannot prevent earthquakes, floods, typhoons, and hurricanes – we can reduce exposure and vulnerabilities, and increase economic and social capabilities, which are key features of such prevention.

This was why, during the 69th session of the ESCAP Commission, earlier this year, our member States identified resilience, especially to multiple shocks, as one of the most important development priorities for Asia and the Pacific.

Efforts to strengthen resilience are most effective when they are integrated into strategies for development. In other words, hazards become disasters in the absence of development, and without adequate investment in risk reduction.

This was why the Commission passed ESCAP Resolution 69/12, which calls on all member States to strengthen their disaster risk reduction capabilities, especially those related to climate change adaptation.

The Commission is looking to this Committee to provide guidance towards successful implementation of this resolution, by harmonizing policies on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, and building synergies in institutional arrangements, financing, and implementation.

We look forward to your deliberations on new initiatives to bridge the gap between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, building on best practices from across the region. To this end, we have also invited senior officials from development planning and finance ministries to this session, to provide their policy expertise alongside disaster management, space technology, and other sectoral specialists.

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

Better Information Informs Better Action

As we strive to ensure that our disaster risk reduction policies and actions are based on the best possible information and evidence, we must take full advantage of the progress which has been made in science and technology - areas in which our region increasingly leads the world.

A good example is space technology, where cutting-edge innovations have remained underutilized in the disaster risk management efforts of many Asia-Pacific countries, mainly because of lack of capacity in terms of human, scientific, technological, and institutional resources and expertise.

To tackle this challenge, our member States adopted, in May this year, a five-year regional plan of action for better use of space technology and Geographic Information Systems for disaster risk reduction and sustainable development. ESCAP has been asked to lead the implementation of this plan, which will harness technological advances for resilient, inclusive and sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific.

ESCAP is the only United Nations Regional Commission that has a space application programme, one which is supported by a strong regional cooperative mechanism on space technology applications for disaster risk reduction and sustainable development - RESAP.

As part of the efforts of this mechanism, and together with our sister-agency UNITAR, we have facilitated the sharing of over 100 near real-time satellite images and maps in the immediate aftermath of disasters, including in the time of the Thai floods and most recently in the case of Typhoon Haiyan. This has allowed faster, more effective coordination and action to assist those communities most in need.

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

Regional Drought Mechanism Goes Live

I am pleased today to also announce that ESCAP has worked closely with RESAP members to developing a regional drought monitoring and early warning mechanism, which will be rolled out shortly.

Drought is a silent killer. Every year in our region droughts push millions of farmers into debt and deepen poverty and hunger. This new regional mechanism is capable of issuing early warnings before the drought is visible to the human eye. Its satellite sensors will detect warning soil and water conditions before the worst of the droughts take hold, so that we can act.

With this new drought mechanism in place, we are strengthening the monitoring and early warning capabilities of our drought-prone countries, through the effective use of space-based information provided by our member States. This is another good example of regional cooperation working for our people.

I am pleased to see many senior officials of national space agencies participating here today. Building on this success story, I would like to challenge all of us to identify additional thematic areas related to disaster risk reduction, in which the same collective spirit can be replicated, with ESCAP’s support.

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,


In conclusion, this session of the Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction is even more significant as we approach the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, and the global debates which are already shaping the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

We are also on the cusp of negotiations for a new global climate change regime, and the Hyogo Framework for Action will also be transitioning to a second phase. Your discussions today, will therefore be key strategic inputs to the 70th annual Commission session next year, positioning Asia and the Pacific in these critical global discussions, and helping to make our region a global role model for resilience-building.

The secretariat stands ready to support you and your governments in these efforts.

I thank you.