Statement by Robert Piper, UN RC & HC in Nepal on the occasion of the opening of the Regional Workshop on Earthquake Risk Reduction and Recovery Preparedness Programme for the South Asia Region

10 Aug 2008

Statement by Robert Piper, UN RC & HC in Nepal on the occasion of the opening of the Regional Workshop on Earthquake Risk Reduction and Recovery Preparedness Programme for the South Asia Region
August 10, 2008

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is my pleasure, on behalf of UNDP, to welcome you all to this coordination workshop for our regional Earthquake Risk Reduction and Recovery Preparedness Programme for the South Asian Region.

I want to thank our co-hosts, the Government of Nepal, especially, for agreeing to hold this important discussion here in Kathmandu. Thank you to our co-organizers the SAARC Disaster Management Centre and the Asian Disaster Reduction Centre, ADRC. Thank you to our regional participants, the five national teams from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan for your presence and ongoing commitment to the programme. And finally thank you to the Government of Japan, for making this programme possible. Japan is truly global leader in disaster reduction - not only does it provide considerable financial resources to the global effort but equally importantly, it is generous in sharing its enormous expertise as a country itself with one of the highest risk profiles in the world.

For its part, UNDP is committed to working towards the prevention or mitigation of natural disasters. Our Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR) leads the organization in its efforts to make crisis prevention and disaster mitigation integral parts of our human development strategies. From UNDP's perspective, disaster risks need to be effectively managed as an integral part of development. UNDP therefore supports national counterparts to develop both a disaster risk perspective and the human, financial, technical and legislative capacity necessary to translate policy into practice.

Our work in South Asia includes promoting economic recovery through skills training and microfinance; providing early recovery support in response to natural disasters; and helping governments plan for and manage disasters and assisting in developing disaster risk reduction. In so doing, we work closely with Governments in the region, NGOs, communities themselves and regional partners such as SAARC and ADRC. We also work closely with our ISDR partners, including OCHA, the World Bank, the Red Cross movement and a number of others.

The number of disasters, the number of people affected by disasters and the economic losses from disasters are inexorably on the rise, world-wide. An average of 211 million people per year were affected by disasters in the 1990s, up from 147 million annually in 1980s. Economic losses are following the same trend. In 1998, disasters caused $65.5 in economic losses worldwide. Then the tsunami, Hurricane Ivan and other disasters in 2004 increased losses exponentially, to around $120 billion. And 2005 saw the worst losses on record, estimated at $230 billion. It is too soon to speak of averages for this decade, but 2008 has started catastrophically, as the Asia region can attest, with the Sichuan earthquake claiming the lives of some 70,000, and Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar killing well over 100,000. Global Humanitarian assistance ' ie. the resources committed to responding to natural and man-made crises ' now regularly hovers around $8 billion or so annually, or around 10% of overall Development Assistance up from less than 5% in 1990s. As underscored in disasters from Aceh to New Orleans from Kashmir to Myanmar, the main victims of disasters are those households least able to absorb such shocks

With more of us living in urban areas and hazard-prone zones, and paying insufficient attention to the environmental consequences of our actions, our planet and its inhabitants are increasingly vulnerable to natural hazards.

Governments are only slowly internalizing this message. The increasing attention to disaster reduction at the SAARC Summits and the inter-Governmental decisions reached at Hyogo in 2005 are evidence that attitudes are shifting. Yet the resources, the political will, the implementation capacity to translate grand principles into facts on the ground, remain illusive.

As many of you in this room appreciate better than me, a good building code ' if it remains only good on paper ' won't save any lives. I recall reading that some 20,000 children and their teachers perished in their classrooms in the Pakistan earthquake in 2005. Some 5 million buildings collapsed in Sichuan in the earthquake of this year, some 7,000 of them schools. Yet I also remember studying Hurricane Luis in St. Maarten in 1995 and the dramatically different impact of the hurricane on buildings on different sides of the island, where the stricter building codes on the French side of the island meant that building there were far less damaged than those on the Dutch side.

When it comes to earthquakes, we know that 75% of all deaths are due to building collapse. The case for clear, well-enforced building codes is evident. Yet the will to implement them remains as weak as some of the structures we have allowed to be built. Let me use this opportunity, in the Nepal context at least, to pledge my support to the important work being done by the team in the municipalities in this country, on this building code issue. Nothing could be more important. Indeed, one shudders to think what Kathmandu valley will look like if the events of 1934 repeat themselves.

Regional cooperation will also be key to help Governments of the region support each other in the event of a large scale disaster. As a new comer to the region, I look forward to getting to better know the SAARC disaster management framework and its Centre. Sharing of knowledge and experiences on structural and non-structural matters such as building codes, earthquake safe construction methods, capacity building and awareness raising, as well as facilitating cross-border mutual assistance, such as regional agreements on customs facilitation, use of regional logistics, transportation and communication hubs will be key preparedness elements at the regional level.

Let me close here by wishing you a productive workshop and underlining to you the importance of the work you need to accomplish here and in the months and years ahead.

Thank you.