In a year when people worldwide have been reminded that nowhere is immune from natural disaster, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on Governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector to invest in disaster prevention and poverty reduction so as to build resilient communities and save lives.
In a message to mark the International Day for Disaster Reduction, he noted the year’s range of disasters from the massive Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, to the ravages of drought and locusts in Africa, from the devastation caused by hurricanes and cyclones in the United States, the Caribbean and the Pacific to the heavy flooding across Europe and Asia.
In these natural disasters, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives and millions lost their livelihoods, Mr. Annan said.
“The lesson we must draw is encapsulated in the theme of this year’s International Day for Disaster Reduction: ‘Invest to prevent disaster’,” he said. “We cannot stop natural calamities, but we can and must better equip individuals and communities to withstand them. Those most vulnerable to nature’s wrath are usually the poorest, which means that when we reduce poverty, we also reduce vulnerability.”
This year, the International Year of Microcredit, is a time to recognize that microfinance can help empower those with little or no access to traditional financial institutions, thereby reducing disaster risk and improving disaster management, Mr. Annan said.
By diversifying the income of high-risk populations and promoting disaster insurance, microfinance can strengthen coping mechanisms before disasters, while hastening recovery afterwards, he said.
This is the type of innovative approach called for in the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015, adopted at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Japan in January, and reaffirmed in September at the World Summit at UN Headquarters in New York, he said.
The Hyogo Framework calls for a global commitment to speed up disaster response times, as well as set guidelines for disaster prevention and develop people-centred early warning systems providing timely information that is easily understood by at-risk populations.
“It is incumbent on all of us to ensure that the Framework is implemented as quickly as possible,” General Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden said.
“It is hard to prevent most natural hazards. But we can work together to prevent so many of them from becoming natural disasters,” he added.
The director of the inter-agency UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) Sálvano Briceño, said: “While supporting communities and helping them manage their own preparedness and recovery, microfinance must be part of a greater strategy of disaster risk reduction.”
To this end, the UN/ISDR Secretariat was launching a global debate on how microfinance could reduce the impact of natural disasters on vulnerable communities.
Several financial experts, disaster managers and UN specialists would meet on Friday and Saturday in New Delhi, India, to discuss the impact of microfinance in countries affected by last December’s tsunami, it said.
In Indonesia, Switzerland, Thailand and Tajikistan, other events would promote the dialogue on the potential of microfinance tools to reduce disaster risk and increase community resilience. By the end of December UN/ISDR would have prepared a publication for wide dissemination on the results of the discussions.