Helen Clark: Keynote Speech at the High-Level Side Event on “Reducing Risks from Water Related Disasters: A Must for the Post-2015 Development Agenda”

Sep 25, 2014

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Keynote Speech

at the
High-Level Side Event

“Reducing Risks from Water Related Disasters: A Must for the Post-2015 Development Agenda”
United Nations, New York

I thank the Governments of Peru, Switzerland, Tajikistan, and Thailand for the opportunity to address this high-level event. As debate on the shape of the post-2015 agenda and the successor to the Hyogo Framework on disaster reduction are in full swing, this is the time to be emphasizing the positive relationship between disaster reduction and development.

Over the past twenty years, disasters brought on by natural hazards, including water-related storms and floods, are estimated to have killed over one million people, affected over four billion people, and cost the global economy a staggering US$2 trillion.

Water-related disasters in particular are far too common and widespread. It is estimated that the loss of life from storms and floods accounts for 55 per cent of all lives lost from disaster events, and these events cause more than eighty per cent of all economic losses.

This year, India and Pakistan have experienced very bad flooding. Rainfall in the Balkans in the spring was the heaviest in 120 years, causing flooding and landslides. Last July, while visiting Serbia, I saw for myself the severe impact of the floods on people, municipalities, and the country.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has highlighted, extreme weather events like these are expected to get worse with climate change. Years of hard work and billions of dollars of development investments are at risk. Among many examples of the costs of such events, Thailand’s 2011 floods cost the country over US$ 45.7 billion – nearly fourteen per cent of its GDP.

Around our world, it is the poor who live in the most flood- and drought-prone regions. Within poor countries, it is the most marginalized, including women and girls, who suffer the greatest impact. Disaster risk reduction must aim to change this.

So what needs to happen?
1.    Disaster risk reduction must be a priority for national and local governments. The necessary investments may seem costly in the short-term, but paying now means saving immensely more later if disaster strikes.

Effective risk-governance requires undertaking risk assessments and contingency planning across all sectors. Laws, policies, institutions, and operating procedures need to be strengthened and supported towards this end.

UNDP works to empower national and local governments to manage current and emerging water-related risks. We draft and amend legislation, build institutional capacity, and support comprehensive planning and budgeting. We support countries to explore innovative financing options, such as municipal and green bonds, which address both climate and disaster risks.

2.    In the post-disaster period, priority must be given to strengthening resilience for the future – to “build back better”. This includes rebuilding physical infrastructure so that it can withstand future shocks, and focusing on restoration of livelihoods and services.

In response to floods this year in the south-east of Tajikistan, UNDP worked with the Government to incorporate risk reduction into the recovery efforts. We helped to restore water supply, health infrastructure, and shelter, and provided support for livelihoods recovery and for new early warning systems.

3.    As climate change threatens to increase the frequency and severity of disasters, it is essential to see disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation as two sides of the same coin. UNDP has combined these two areas of work under one team in its current reorganization.

In partnership with the Global Environment Facility and its adaptation funds, and with key donors such as Germany and Japan, we are currently supporting over one hundred countries with US$800 million of grant funding to implement adaptation priorities. Of these countries, 24 are addressing water supply, storage, and flood related risks.

In Honduras, for example, climate sensitive land use planning and zoning in the river basins supplying water to Tegucigalpa was developed with UNDP’s support. The goal is to maintain the quality of water supply in the face of the increased frequency of flooding.

4.    Strong partnerships, including through South-South and triangular co-operation, are essential. It’s important to share knowledge and experiences on what works and what doesn’t in building resilience against water-related and other natural disasters.

A good example comes from the Caribbean, where the use of Risk Management Centres, a Cuban initiative, has been gaining traction. UNDP is supporting this initiative, and hopes to see it expand, including to non-Caribbean SIDS.

In conclusion
The UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) included targets on disaster risk reduction in its proposal. It has recognized the great importance of strengthening the resilience of communities and countries to disasters.

At the same time, UNISDR and the Bureau Members of the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which takes place in Sendai next year, are working hard on developing the successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action.

At UNDP, we hope that these two critical frameworks, along with the future new climate regime, will complement each other in helping to strengthen the resilience of all countries to disasters, including to those related to water.

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