Ban calls for urgent action to minimize disaster damage in Asia

11 August 2009
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon address at the opening ceremony of UNISDR East Asia office

With Asia being the world’s most vulnerable place for natural disasters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today stressed the need for boosting efforts across the continent to prepare for catastrophes before they occur.

“We know that prevention is better than the cure,” Mr. Ban said at the opening of a new UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) office in Incheon, Republic of Korea (ROK). “Yet too often, there is a tendency to defer action until after disasters occur.”

Last year, nearly 140,000 people died in Myanmar’s devastating Cyclone Nargis, while over 5 million homes collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake in China.

The Secretary-General underscored the importance of building risk reduction capacities as well as raising public awareness.

“People, poverty and disaster risk are increasingly concentrated in cities,” he said, noting that urban centres that were well-planned 25 years ago are now the scenes of annual flooding.

More than half of the world’s 10 most populous cities are in Asia, and most of them are threatened by earthquakes and devastating tsunami waves, Mr. Ban said in his remarks to International Conference on Building a Local Government Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction, also in Incheon.

Rising sea temperatures triggered by climate change, he said, are raising the spectre of ever-more destructive hurricane and cyclones.

“And yet,” he said, “we also know the possibility. With concerted action, we can reduce by half the loss of lives from disasters by 2015,” calling for an end to “business as usual.”

The Secretary-General appealed for a “collective effort,” urging local authorities to speed up their efforts to make their cities safer by conducting risk assessments and encouraging private sector investment.

“By joining forces, we can protect livelihoods, make our schools and hospitals and other buildings safe, and promote a greener, cleaner future.”

The UN organized a session during the conference today on better utilizing information and communication technology (ICT) – which includes traditional media such as radio and television, as well as space-based technologies including satellite communications – to prepare for and deal with catastrophic natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific region.

In 2008, nearly 250,000 people died as a result of natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific, representing 97 per cent of fatalities worldwide, according to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

With climate change increasing both the frequency and severity of disasters, setting up disaster resilience strategies is an urgent matter, said Hyeun-Suk Rhee, Director of the UN Asian and Pacific Training Centre for ICT for Development (APCICT), which organized today’s session.

Climate change was the focus of another speech the Secretary-General gave today in Incheon to the Global Environment Forum.

The ROK has dedicated some 80 per cent of its $38 billion national stimulus package to ‘green’ growth, the highest percentage in the world, Mr. Ban pointed out.

The investments will create nearly 1 million green jobs in the next four years, making a “fundamental shift in Korea’s approach to building national prosperity,” he said.

“But Korea must do more,” he said, calling on the East Asian nation to slash its greenhouse gas emissions.

Only four months remain until the start of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where countries are expected to ‘seal the deal’ on an ambitious pact on slashing emissions, the Secretary-General said.

“Any agreement must be fair, effective, equitable and comprehensive, and based on science,” he said. “And it must help vulnerable nations adapt to climate change.”


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