Speech by Robert Piper, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator at the Opening Ceremony for the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) Asia Pacific Meeting, Kathmandu, Nepal

03 Jul 2012

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Hon. Bijaya Kumar Gachhadhar

Home Secretary and INSARAG Asia/Pacific Regional Chair Mr. Sushil Jang Bahadur Rana

International and local delegates

Representatives from Government agencies

Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to this regional meeting. I would like to congratulate the Government of Nepal and the Ministry of Home Affairs in particular, for hosting the INSARAG Asia Pacific Meeting in Kathmandu. A tremendous amount of work has gone into the planning to make this meeting a success.

The serious seismic risks of Nepal are well known to most in this audience. Much of what makes this country so unique is of course also what makes it so hazard-prone. The relatively youthful and still growing Himalayas are doing so because of the relatively rapid plate movement below our feet. This country’s stunning gorges and rivers leave the country prone to flooding and mud slides. Nepal’s extraordinary natural endowment brings with it a host of natural hazards. And more recently, Man has added to this catalogue of hazards through our own behavior. Global warming is leading to glacial melt, bringing risks of glacial lake outbursts as well as contributing to food insecurity as farmers struggle to adapt to changing weather patterns. The fastest urbanizing country in the region, Nepal is also witnessing increased human settlements in the wrong places. In short, this is a country that must live with risk – to accept it as an intrinsic part of what is ‘Nepal’ - and must learn to manage it. And it needs to do so in a hurry.

I am pleased and relieved to report that we – the Government and its international partners - are also starting to make real headway on this issue since some of you visited us a few years ago for an INSARAG country exercise.

A functioning National Emergency Operations Centre is up and running 24/7 with 25 regional and district EOC’s coming on line this year. The Government and WFP are investing in warehousing to help better pre-position supplies. The Red Cross movement and Local Development Ministry is leading an unprecedented effort to establish a standardized preparedness package across 1,000 of Nepal’s village administrative units – one quarter of the total – with funds already secured for 500, a significant number of them in urban areas. The US Government is working with local partners on preparing the airport, bailey bridging, building code enforcement and mason training. Retrofitting of schools in the Valley is set to increase exponentially from 5-10 a year a few years ago to 50 this year and at least 150 a year starting from 2013. The Indian Government has been investing in mitigation work on the Koshi River and has a fleet of some 27 fire engines on order. The Ministry of Health with UK support gets started on a structural survey of the 70 largest hospital facilities in the Valley next month. Financing of a major initiative to improve meteorological forecasting and early warning has been secured. The Nepal military has been working with the military from a range of countries to start putting in place operational plans for cooperation in the event of a large scale disaster here. The International Financial Institutions – the World Bank and the Asian Development – are seriously engaged and investing in this sector for the first time. The UK Government recently announced a $27 million package of assistance to the Government in this field. Alongside the Government of Nepal itself, ECHO, the Governments of Australia, Japan and others are also committing substantial resources to this work. The UN system for its part, is deeply engaged with different parts of the Government across the breadth of these efforts, from land-use planning to emergency health preparedness, from developing the first national response framework to an Open Spaces initiative in the Valley aimed at accommodating up to one million displaced persons.

I am not describing an aspirational workplan here, seeking funding at some undefined point in the future. These activities are either already well underway or getting underway in the days that come. All with secured financing. In short, I can report to you with confidence that the Disaster Risk Reduction community is on the move in Nepal. And doing so with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose.

Indeed, we have witnessed a step-change in risk reduction efforts in this country. In part this progress is attributable to a heightened awareness of the importance of this work amongst all the players, local and internationals alike. If anything good might have come from the recent tragedies of Haiti or Japan, or closer to home, Myanmar and Pakistan, it is this increased appreciation of the importance of confronting and managing natural hazards. This progress is also attributable I believe to the way the international community has come together to support the Government in these efforts. Using the UN’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction as a convening platform, the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium brings together a unique mix of Government and Non Government actors, humanitarian and development organizations, and UN and International Financial Institutions, under the leadership of the Government of Nepal. Our current members span both humanitarian and development arms of the UN system, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, the IFRC, the Governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia as well as the European Community.

On behalf of our Consortium and similar efforts across the globe, I would like to make two requests to you, the search and rescue community, as one of the most influential and surely the most visible constituency of the wider risk reduction effort.

First, please help us build international coalitions like the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium to support countries address risk reduction and invest in preparedness. Yours’ is a powerful voice in your domestic constituencies. Hassle and hussle development agencies, politicians, emergency actors, the civilian and military to come together at home and abroad to join this type of international collaboration at the country level. Development actors need to be injected with a dose of urgency that only emergency actors can administer. And emergency actors can learn much from development actors about building policies and institutions that last. In Nepal we are witnessing how we can be so much more than the sum of our parts, when we come together in this way.

And second, help us advocate for greater investment in risk reduction more broadly. Search and rescue is a vital part of this effort of course. And you too need resources to deliver on your substantial responsibilities. But there is  no more credible spokesperson for say getting building codes enforced and investing in retrofitting, than you, the people tasked with trying to get people out of the rubble of poorly constructed schools, hospitals and homes in the aftermath of an earthquake. I would like to see INSARAG as a community, look even beyond its own needs, and become the loudest champions for the kind of school and hospital retrofitting efforts that have been launched in the Kathmandu valley. With the conviction that comes from the dangerous, heart-wrenching and critical work you do when you are called upon.

Thank you for your dedication and professionalism that has become the hallmark of the INSARAG community. I wish you well in your deliberations over the days that follow.

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