Helen Clark: Speech at the Official Launch of the Post Disaster Needs Assessment Report

Jun 18, 2015

I am pleased to participate in this launch of the findings of the Post Disaster Needs Assessment which was carried out in the aftermath of the recent devastating floods here in Malawi.

I would like to begin by extending my sincere sympathies to the more than 1.1 million people whose lives, livelihoods, and communities were so severely affected by the floods.

I commend the Government of Malawi for its leadership of the response to the floods, and commend development partners, the private sector, and civil society organisations for their prompt support for the relief effort. I understand that the Government and partners managed to fund fifty per cent of the required US$80 million for the Government’s emergency response plan. This is particularly significant when one considers the many competing humanitarian needs globally.

I also commend the Government of Malawi for its leadership on the PDNA process. The assessment was intended to be a nationally led and collaborative endeavor, and in that it has clearly succeeded. The Government carried out the assessment with valuable inputs and support from a full range of stakeholders, including national and international NGOs, civil society, and development partners.

The World Bank, the European Union, and the UN System fully supported the Government’s efforts throughout the PDNA’s preparation. Such a collaborative and nationally led process avoids duplication of effort, validates the findings, and ensures that recovery efforts are based on the needs on the ground.

On the PDNA

The findings being launched today are intended to help shape the recovery for Malawi as it moves forward this year. The cost of recovery has been estimated at over $400 million. The PDNA will help the Government to identify priorities and allocate resources accordingly. For donors and partners, it will help to streamline the process by which it is determined how and where support can be best provided.

The PDNA report is comprehensive in documenting recovery needs across the reconstruction of homes and transport and irrigation systems, and on issues around food security and agriculture, employment and livelihoods, and disaster risk reduction. The emphasis on strengthening disaster risk management is particularly important, as this will build resilience to future extreme weather events.

In the near term, revitalization of the agriculture sector through provision of tools, seeds, and livestock will be important. Malawi is primarily an agro-economy, and the flood damage has impacted on the population’s ability to feed itself over the next year. Repair of key roads and bridges will play a vital role in restoring access to basic services and markets.

Housing and public infrastructure - including schools - are by far the largest sectors identified in the PDNA for total damage and loss and for recovery and reconstruction needs. That clearly points to the need for better, risk-informed housing and other infrastructure development, with implications for the kinds of materials used in construction, construction methods, and land use planning. The Government of Malawi, with support from the World Bank and the UN, has already launched Safer House Construction Guidelines. Now these need to be implemented.

Longer-term investment in sustainable natural resource and watershed management systems is also needed to minimize the effects of future flooding and recurrent dry spells. If coupled with other disaster risk reduction measures, including strengthened early-warning systems, these measures can ensure that communities become safer and more resilient.

The PDNA is also notable for having carefully assessed the impact of the floods on all community members, and in particular on women and girls. The attention given by the assessment team to gender issues is commendable, and I hope this focus will be reflected in the process of recovery, where women can and should play a vital role and gender equality should guide the implementation.

The UN’s commitment

The UN system is firmly committed to supporting the Government’s recovery efforts. To this end, we have developed recovery programming based on the findings of the PDNA. UN agencies will be working with the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) and other government departments to strengthen early warning and response systems, establish emergency operations centres, set up education and health services, and work with communities to improve irrigation systems, support agriculture development, and provide livelihood grants. Throughout our support, the UN will also focus on critical cross cutting issues, including gender.

The way forward

At UNDP we say: ‘if it isn’t risk informed, it isn’t sustainable development’. That must apply to recovery from this flooding disaster. The onus is on all of us involved in the recovery not to cut corners, nor to make hasty decisions. Recovery must be informed by assessments of climate and other disaster risk. This will be critical as Malawi strengthens its capacities to prepare for and respond to such shocks in future.

The importance of strengthening resilience throughout recovery efforts featured at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in March. Many of us there advocated for recognition of the importance of resilient recovery in the Sendai Framework. The goal now must be to see that actions follow words, and that recovery efforts around the world – including here in Malawi - are guided by decisions which take into account existing socio-economic vulnerabilities and strengthen the capacities of people to protect themselves and their livelihoods.

The floods were an appalling tragedy, and there can be little solace for those who have lost so much. Now, it is important to support the communities to build back better. The recovery efforts should address not only the consequences of this year’s floods, but also take into account other hazards – including drought.

Allow me to suggest three factors which can contribute to a resilient recovery:

1. With the floods still uppermost in the minds of many, there is an opportunity to increase public understanding of the risk of future flooding. This is all the more important with climate change threatening to increase both the severity and intensity of natural hazards such as floods. Mainstreaming disaster and climate risk assessment and appropriate action across all sectors must be an integral part of Malawi’s development strategy going forward.

2. There should be adherence to proper land use regulation, with infrastructure and agricultural development being risk-informed. That means identifying local areas at risk of flooding, ensuring that soil and land degradation is avoided, adapting to the impact of climate change, and preparing contingency plans for local people. Co-ordination and information management at all levels will be critical for this, as will be enforcement of regulations and codes.

3. Malawi should use the opportunity presented by the response to the flooding and guided by the findings in the PDNA to undertake important institutional and policy changes which will strengthen resilience. This includes getting traction on the Land Bill, which addresses issues around land tenure, urban housing policy, and building standards, and on the Disaster Risk Management Policy. Through new legislation, policy, regulation, and their enforcement, an enabling environment for resilient recovery and a safer Malawi can be created.

Conclusion

In conclusion, let me emphasise that it is unlikely that these will be the last floods, or the last natural hazard, to hit Malawi. If that is taken into account in the recovery efforts now, Malawi will be much better equipped to anticipate and to prevent the worst impacts of a similar shock in the future.

Building back better for a successful and resilient recovery also requires strong partnerships. It has to be a joint effort of the government, international partners, NGOs, civil society, and, most important, the affected communities themselves – always including women and girls and the marginalised. The UN is committed to playing its part in these efforts.

Once again, I thank the Government for its leadership of the response and the PDNA, and commend all our partners and colleagues for their support for the PDNA process.

On behalf of the UN system, let me assure you that we are committed to work with the Government and all other partners in support of resilient recovery in Malawi.

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