Helen Clark: Opening Speech at World Humanitarian Summit Pacific Consultations

Jun 30, 2015

I am delighted to address this Pacific regional consultation for the World Humanitarian Summit. I commend the WHS Secretariat, OCHA, the Governments of New Zealand and Australia, and all other partners who have led the preparations for this meeting.

The aim of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul next year is to generate strong global support for bold changes in humanitarian action. It will bring together representatives of governments, development actors, civil society and NGOs, the private sector, and other stakeholders.

We live in extraordinary times with huge numbers of people affected by conflicts and disasters. Humanitarian relief budgets and budgets for recovery are under great strain. But 2015 is also the year when major new global agreements are being struck on disaster risk reduction, financing for development, sustainable development goals, and climate change. Thus these can also be times of hope.

The World Humanitarian Summit itself is a good opportunity to emphasise that reducing vulnerability, managing risk, and strengthening resilience must become central to the global development agenda, thereby addressing the underlying reasons why so many people currently need humanitarian assistance.

In the lead up to the Summit, eight regional consultations, including this one, are being held to gather views from around the world to feed into the discussions in Istanbul. This is a global process, it must reflect the views of countries and communities large and small.

Here in the Pacific, people are echoing what others are saying: that challenges related to poverty, inequalities, crises, and vulnerabilities are impacting on their lives.

• While communities in the Pacific have experienced conflict in the past, the call for humanitarian responses here these days arises largely from natural disasters, which are an ever present concern. The United Nations University’s 2014 World Risk Report assessed that four out of the ten most disaster-prone countries in the world are in the Pacific.

• Here as in all other regions, those least responsible for climate change are bearing the greatest cost of its consequences. Changing rainfall patterns and ocean acidification are affecting livelihoods and biodiversity. Sea level rise is increasing the stress on land, water, and food for many Pacific countries, and poses an existential threat to low-lying atolls such as Kiribati.

• People everywhere in the Pacific, but especially women, youth, and those living with disabilities, say that they feel excluded from many of the decision making forums and activities which impact on their lives. Yet the best decisions are always made when those impacted can contribute to making them.

• The vast distances within and between countries in the Pacific region call for context-specific approaches to everything from jobs and livelihoods to the delivery of basic services, managing energy production and consumption, and disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

UNDP has had decades of experience of supporting development around the world, including in the Small Island Developing States of the Pacific. Based on that experience, I would like to address three areas of critical importance for the discussions here in Auckland and for the outcome next year in Istanbul: disaster risk reduction, the critical importance of strong communities and inclusive governance, and funding priorities.

First, the importance of disaster risk reduction, needs to be centre stage.


While every society and community is vulnerable to risk, some suffer far less harm and recover far more quickly than others. Yet so often we see hard-won development gains literally swept away by floods, cyclones, landslides, or tsunami, or destroyed by volcanic eruptions, severe droughts, or earthquakes. In the Pacific we recall Cyclone Evan in 2012; major flooding last year in the Solomon Islands, and Cyclone Pam earlier this year which cost Vanuatu US$368 million, the equivalent of 48 per cent of its GDP, and also badly affected Tuvalu. These, and many other extreme weather events over the years, were painful reminders of the heightened scale of disasters which are forecast if the international community does not act far more decisively on climate change.

Since 2005 when the Hyogo Framework for Action was adopted, UNDP has supported 163 countries to implement disaster risk reduction measures and to adapt to climate change. We have learned that:

• Piecemeal action doesn’t produce effective disaster risk reduction. Investing in risk-informed development means integrating risk management into the whole of the development planning and financing process. Disaster risk reduction is about far more than putting in place early warning and response systems – vital as they are to save life and limb.

• Risk reduction is only sustainable if it is led well by governments, national and sub-national; delivered through effective institutions which have the capacity to lead complex, long-running processes; and designed and implemented with full community engagement. Local people are always the first responders, and they know full well where the greatest risks are;

• It is important in the process of recovery from disasters to build back better based on good information about the risks to be managed, as for example Cook Islands has done;

• Response to disasters and recovery present major opportunities to empower women and marginalised groups by ensuring their full involvement.

An objective of the new global framework for disaster risk reduction agreed in March in Sendai, Japan, is to mainstream disaster risk reduction in public policy and planning. Reinforcing these messages in the outcomes of the World Humanitarian Summit consultations will help lead to actions which can greatly reduce the need for humanitarian responses in future when disasters strike.

Second, the importance of strong communities and inclusive governance should be clearly acknowledged.

There is a direct relationship between how quickly a community recovers from a crisis of any kind, and the quality of the development which came before. Issues to consider include:

• Can communities self-organise?
• How responsive is government at the local and national levels?
• Are strong partnerships in place between government, the community, and other stakeholders?

Our meeting here in Auckland also presents an opportunity to discuss the importance of moving away from the use of parallel systems to the use of local systems and co-ordination structures; and how to help build the capacity of and therefore trust in national and local governments as the primary providers of relief post disaster.

A vital area to address is the disproportionate impact of disasters on women and girls. More women than men die in most disasters; for example, seventy per cent of those who died in the 2009 Tonga tsunami were women. The incidence of gender-based violence increases exponentially during and after major shocks. Sadly, for example, women can be very vulnerable in shelters. As well, most crises place an undue burden on women and girls who are responsible for unpaid work, such as providing care, water, and food for households.

People with disabilities, the elderly, children, and other groups made vulnerable by their position in society are also disproportionately and differently affected. These groups are often the last to be reached by relief efforts, and say that they are rarely consulted or included during preparedness or recovery planning. Acknowledging and addressing their concerns is vital.

A third area of importance is that of determining funding priorities.

A small fraction of official development assistance is used to reduce disaster risk. Investments in measures to address the precursors of conflict have also been woefully small.

At this time of overwhelming demand for humanitarian responses, our focus should surely be on how the need for them could have been averted by more preventive action.

Compounding the problem of underfunding for disaster risk reduction and conflict prevention is the fact that early recovery, the very foundation of long-term recovery, is consistently the least funded of all programme areas included in humanitarian appeals. So far this year, 87 per cent of requested funds for economic recovery and infrastructure projects included in the 2015 global appeal have not been met.

Disasters and crises often occur in places where the aftermath of a previous tragedy is lingering, in part at least because money for recovery was absent or very limited. Severe underfunding for recovery from crisis and disaster means that the opportunity is missed to make a durable transition to a better state.

The regional pre-consultation on humanitarian financing held in Suva at the beginning of this month recommended improving the co-ordination of financing within governments and between governments and the international community, and the creation of innovative partnerships between donors and governments, to ensure that funding flows quickly to where it is most needed during and after disasters. Strong government leadership is a first step towards making this work.

To conclude.

Unprecedented disasters and conflicts are erasing past, present and future development gains, especially for the poorest, and even in places accustomed to managing major disaster risks. The citizens of Small Island Developing States of the Pacific face enormous and special challenges.

Building resilience for the future is about disaster risk reduction; strengthening communities and their engagement in decisions which impact on their lives; responsive governance; and matching funding with these priorities.

The truth is that sometimes it is the small and practical actions which will make the most difference to strengthening resilience. UNDP’s advice therefore is to ensure that action is related to the context, capacities, and needs of countries and communities. In the Pacific, for example, what do remote communities need to have to survive and recover until external support arrives? Are there small, cost-effective, “must have” items which will make a big difference? Then, practical policies which incentivise building back better will save lives and resources in the longer term. I hope that you will be able to share best practice examples during this consultation.

I hope to see innovative proposals from the Pacific region reflected in the recommendations which go to both the global consultation in Switzerland in October and to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul next year. This is the opportunity for the voice of the Pacific and the facts about its unique vulnerabilities and strengths to be reflected in the global discussions. I wish you all a very successful meeting.

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