Asian nations focus on disaster risk reduction as UN-backed meeting opens in Malaysia

2 December 2008

Ministers from more than 40 Asian countries have gathered at a United Nations-backed meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to discuss ways to reduce the social and financial impact of natural disasters in their region.

The three-day Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction brings Asia-Pacific government officials together to develop partnerships and regional cooperation for disaster preparedness and early warning systems.

The Asia-Pacific region is not only one of the most populous in the world but also, by far, the most affected by disasters in terms of human and economic impacts, according to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).

“The Third Ministerial Conference is a main forum to make disaster risk reduction a priority at the local level and to mobilize more resources for implementing disaster risk reduction policies, which are vital to development and poverty reduction. This is a unique opportunity to identify gaps and bring governments and civil society together to fill them,” said Sálvano Briceño, Director of the UNISDR secretariat.

The Centre of Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) notes that this year alone, more than 230,000 people were killed and over 47 million affected by two major disasters, namely the earthquake in China and Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar.

In a message to the conference, the head of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) emphasized the need for greater investment in disaster risk reduction in the region.

Various studies 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 Noeleen Heyzer.

“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,” she added.

The conference, which is being held with the support of the UNISDR, ESCAP and others, is expected to adopt a final declaration urging governments to commit more resources to disaster risk reduction policies and to engage more public-private partnerships to address the issue.

Also today, UNISDR announced that Loren Legarda, a Senator from the Philippines, is its Asia Pacific Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction. In her new role, Ms. Legarda will help UNISDR promote the benefits of disaster risk reduction policies in countries and communities in the region that are most vulnerable to disasters.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has told the Clinton Global Initiative – which was meeting today for the first time in Asia – that the region can play “a leading role” in both averting a prolonged slowdown during the current global economic turmoil and ensuring that the environment is protected.

“The urgent challenge for the region – and for the world as a whole – is to foster economic growth to cut poverty, while minimizing the impact on climate change and the environment,” he said in a video message. “Green growth, with the potential to create millions of jobs, offers one promising way forward.

“We also need a more inclusive multilateralism – one that is fair, one that gives voice to and responds to all the world’s people.”

 

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