Our Perspective

disaster

Bhutan continues to face the risk of glacial lake flooding

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The film crew seen here during the production of the 'Himalayan Meltdown' documentary. Photo: UNDP Asia/Pacific

In Bhutan, about 5,000 meters above sea level, meltwater trickles down from glaciers to form some of the greatest rivers in the world and provide freshwater and energy to nearly 1.3 billion people throughout the Himalayas. But with the effect of climate change, glaciers are melting too fast, jeopardizing an economy mostly based on hydropower production, but also endangering lives. Water can accumulate in unstable lakes on the glaciers, and when these lakes become too heavy, their natural barriers burst , setting loose a massive volume of water, boulders and mud, causing significant damages in the valleys below. Between 2008 and 2013, the Government – with our support and financial assistance from the Least Developed Countries Fund, the Government of Austria and the World Wildlife Fund – successfully lowered the water level of Lake Thorthormi, a glacial lake that ranked as one of the most dangerous in the country. Bhutanese men and women trekked to an altitude of 4,500 meters above sea level to excavate moraine and rocks in near-freezing water against the strikingly cruel contrast of beautiful ice-capped Himalayan Mountains. It is an image that vividly depicts the unfairness associated with climate change and the fact that these communities who... Read more

Can small islands expect a sea-change from the latest UN development conference?

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New irrigation methods revive farming in a Comorian village. Photo: UNDP/Comoros

This week, the tiny Pacific island of Samoa is hosting the UN’s 3rd international conference on small island developing states – or SIDS. It’s a novelty for sure; an island nation of less than 190,000 people suddenly plays host to over 3000 people from around the world. But the island’s embrace of the event is also indicative of the scale of what’s at stake; it’s about survival. Climate change threatens to not only undo many years of impressive development progress but to erase whole countries and cultures. A few days ago, the Prime Minister of Samoa wrote simply, ‘we are drowning’. So what will be achieved this week? With small populations and limited international influence many islands often slip through the cracks in larger – and wealthier – countries’ list of priorities. Most SIDS have underscored their significant fragility and vulnerability, especially to shocks such as extreme weather events. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan laid waste to the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada. The devastation caused over US$1 billion in damages, equivalent to over 200% of the country’s GDP. In addition to the terrible human cost of such disasters, there are also significant reconstruction costs and some countries have seen their debt... Read more

One number that tells a much bigger story in the Pacific

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With support from UNDP and funding from the GEF, the Government of Samoa has stepped up to integrate climate risks into the agriculture and health sectors and into forestry management. Photo UNDP/Samoa

Small islands face big challenges. This week’s Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Samoa probes some of the most pressing ones. How do we protect our ocean resources for future generations? How do we prepare for the destructive forces of climate change on fragile islands? How can countries find the human and financial resources to sustain productive businesses, homes, schools and health services? How can countries stem rising youth unemployment? The list is as long as the oceans are wide. There is one important, often overlooked development indicator that lurks behind these larger issues and is a pre-condition for development progress in all countries. This worrisome indicator which is under discussion this week is mentioned in a new United Nations report, The State of Human Development in the Pacific: a Report on Vulnerability and Exclusion in a Time of Rapid Change. The report is being launched days ahead of the SIDS Conference in Samoa. What is it? Life expectancy. It provides a simple measure of the overall health status of a population. And the picture in the Pacific is not good. An average person in New Zealand or Australia can expect to live about 10 years longer than a person... Read more

Boosting resilience in the Caribbean

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Investing in the resilience of people and countries to increase their capacity to cope successfully with climate change is crucial. Photo: Carolina Azevedo/UNDP

Having lived and worked for more than a decade in four Caribbean countries, I have witnessed firsthand how Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are extremely vulnerable to challenges ranging from debt and unemployment to climate change and sea level rise. Such aspects make their paths towards sustainable development probably more complex than non-SIDS countries. That was my experience, working closely with governments, civil society organisations and the people of Belize, Cuba, Guyana and Haiti – where I led the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) reconstruction efforts after the devastating January 2010 earthquake. That’s why the upcoming UN Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), taking place in Samoa, Sep. 1-4 is so important. It will provide an opportunity to increase international cooperation and knowledge sharing between and within regions. And it takes place at a key moment, ahead of the Climate Change Summit at the UN General Assembly, to be held on Sep. 23. Climate change—and all natural hazards, in fact—hit Small Island Developing States hard, even though these countries haven’t historically contributed to the problem. Extreme exposure to disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, droughts, landslides and earthquakes place these countries at a particularly vulnerable position. In the Caribbean, two key sectors, agriculture and tourism, which... Read more

A new global framework for disaster risk reduction

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Barbados: Members of the community doing practical exercises in disaster management. Photo: UNDP in Barbados & the OECS

It is well recognized that disasters are an impediment to the eradication of poverty, so it is no surprise that the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include indicators related to disaster risk reduction. However, while most attention is on the post-2015 development framework, momentum is also building towards a new framework for disaster risk reduction – a successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA). Adopted by 168 countries in 2005, the HFA pledges to reduce the impact of disasters through prevention, preparedness, and capacities for emergency response. Over the last nine years, the HFA has been instrumental in galvanizing global support for tackling disasters. And the results during this time have been significant. Countries in all regions have made progress and some have truly transformed the way they undertake development, mainstreaming risk reduction throughout institutions, policies and programmes. However, while a great deal of progress has been made, especially in disaster preparedness, other areas, such as risk-governance, still require a concerted push. In July, I had the opportunity to participate in the first preparation meeting for the successor of the HFA (dubbed ‘HFA2’), and its adoption in March 2015 at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Organized by UNISDR... Read more

Haiyan six months on: A promising start on the long road to recovery

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Typhoon Haiyan affected more than 142,000 fishermen, with some areas losing 95 percent of their commercial boats and equipment. Photo: UNDP in the Philippines

Six months after one of the strongest tropical storms ever recorded on earth slammed into the Philippines last November, killing more than 6,200 people and displacing over 4 million, the physical signs of recovery are increasingly visible. Roads have been cleared, over 120,000 households have received help to rebuild, and nearly all the damaged schools and hospitals have re-opened. While the costs of the disaster are better understood after six months, the human suffering continues to take its toll. People who were already tackling extreme poverty, including many living in the Eastern Visayas region, now face a future without the security of their farms, employment opportunities, or long-term economic prospects. Rebuilding these communities could span a decade or more. While the response of the international community to the immediate emergency has been generous, post-disaster recovery requires long term engagement. Recovery is about more than the vital task of building homes and structures. It is also about building greater resilience to natural hazards. The Philippines, battered by an average of 20 large-scale storms a year, is no exception. Investments in preparedness for these events and adaptation to ongoing risks are vital. Improved infrastructure design, for example, can help save lives and protect... Read more

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