Opening Statement at the High-Level Regional Conference on Information Management for Disaster Risk Reduction

Delivered at High-Level Regional Conference on Information Management for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Action Management, Tools and Approaches for Risk Informed Sustainable Development in Asia-Pacific in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Excellencies,
Distinguished representatives,
Ladies and gentlemen,

In 2017, tropical cyclones, flooding, earthquakes and landslides – all brought tragic loss of life across Asia and the Pacific. Sand and dust storms continued to hit with unrelenting regularity. In South Asia, flooding killed more than one thousand people, affected more than 40 million and left 1.8 million children unable to go to school. In November, earthquakes on the border between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq claimed over 400 lives, injured over 16 thousand people and left 3,800 students without education. These sad events have once again demonstrated, in graphic terms, the deadly cost of disasters which respect no boundaries. Allow me to offer my sincere condolences and sympathies to the bereaved families and peoples.

This High-Level Regional Conference on Information Management for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience, is being organized around one imperative: moving from disaster response towards prevention and resilience. As countries recognize that even the most efficient early warning systems may not be enough when a disaster hits, the need for information and knowledge-based approaches that promote a sharing of innovative tools to support evidence-based and risk-informed policy responses for prevention and mitigation, become ever more important.

Indeed, Disaster Risk Reduction is a striking example of where innovative policy cooperation and change at regional level could help quicken the pace towards achieving the 2030 Agenda. The transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies - particularly resilience to climate-related hazards and natural disasters - lies at the heart of our broader ambition to reduce inequalities which disasters and environmental degradation exacerbate. This will be the theme of the UN’s high-level political forum on sustainable development this year, into which ESCAP will be feeding a regional perspective which you can help shape.

Allow me to highlight three key findings from our flagship knowledge product, the Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2017.

First, disaster risks are outpacing disaster resilience. The gap between risk and resilience-building is growing in those countries which have the least capacity to prepare for disasters, or respond to them. For example, in South and South-West Asia droughts affected around 692 million people, while economic damage, mostly from floods reached 94 billion USD.

Second, accumulated seismic risk is on the rise. This is particularly the case in cities and towns built on, or close to, fault lines. Against a backdrop of rapid urbanisation, approximately 170 cities and 166 million people are at extreme risk from earthquakes and landslides. Critical infrastructure such as schools are often the hardest hit. Poor households not only lose assets and income from earthquakes; their children lose schools or are removed from schools as a coping strategy, perpetuating poverty from one generation to the next. Between 2002 and 2014 in Pakistan, there was a 15 per cent increase in school dropout rates as disasters hit in quick succession - the 2005 earthquake followed by devastating floods in 2010 and 2011.

Third, the deep uncertainties caused by climate change are exacerbating risk. The 2030 climate scenarios show an alarming geographical shift in drought risk and other slow onset disasters. In South Asia, there is a westward shift, in South-East Asia, this shift is eastwards. Sand and dust storms, along with drought, land degradation, desertification and wind erosion are expanding in South-West Asia and present new, formidable challenges to sustainable development in this sub-region.

This climate shift is resulting in areas where climate change related disasters coincide with a high concentration of vulnerable, poor or marginalized people. As these hotspots expand, inequalities will widen over larger geographical areas. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, our research shows the Sistan region to have high levels of poverty, but it is also hit by multiple episodes of sand and dust storms. The effect of these combined stresses can exacerbate poverty and endanger the livelihoods of those who have the least means to cope.

To compound matters, many buildings and critical infrastructure are currently being built without considering future climate risks or the uncertainties that will emanate from them. Retrofitting such infrastructure for resilience to a climate environment that will be radically different from the current one will be costly. Climate resilient infrastructure, cities and livelihoods thus require new information management systems, decision support tools and innovative approaches. Nested modelling solutions that incorporate geo-spatial information infrastructure and big data analytics could help develop solutions, that are location and sector specific.

Excellencies,

ESCAP’s regional institute – the Asian and Pacific Centre for the Development of Disaster Information Management, or APDIM - that is being established in Tehran today, aims to bridge gaps in information and knowledge to support disaster resilience for sustainable development. I am pleased to inform you that the program of this Regional Conference is structured along lines that respond to these very challenges.

Let me share with you two points you may wish to consider.

One, sand and dust storms, are a shared vulnerability across wide expanses of Asia-Pacific. Our research highlights that source and impact mitigation of sand and dust storms are spatially linked. Taking into account these geo-spatial linkages, multi-country coordinated policy actions are making positive impacts, in China and Mongolia for example. Quite often, sand and dust sources as well as impacted regions cut across borders, which requires information sharing, dialogue and cooperation among the related countries for risk informed policy interventions.

Two, there is a need for a sand dust alert system. Our study makes the case for a sand dust alert system that draws on science-based monitoring and forecasting tools. We propose this system be developed and supported by a network of experts that convene through APDIM.

Excellencies,

The outcome of your deliberations today will help shape APDIM’s programme of work and the Governing Council’s decisions in its second session tomorrow. In partnership we will systematically use all the tools, innovations and technological advances available.

We should strive for nothing less. The story of disasters in our region is one of damage and loss of life. But there is increasing potential to put innovations into practice, use risk-sensitive measures for development, build resilient infrastructure and put in place better preparedness initiatives. As we strive to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in the region, let us take full advantage of APDIM in our collective journey towards a future where sustainable development and disaster risk reduction are addressed in a holistic, integrated manner.

I wish you success and look forward to hearing the outcomes of your deliberations.