Helen Clark: Statement at the Tsunami Lessons Learned Event

24 Apr 2009

Statement by Helen Clark
Chair of the United Nations Development Group
On the occasion of the Tsunami Lessons Learned Event
24 April 2009, New York

Mr. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon
President Clinton,
Ambassador Natalegawa,
Excellency Mangkusubroto,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today’s event is the first I have attended in my capacity as the new Chair of the United Nations Development Group.

We meet today to discuss a very important report on the crisis response to the 2004 tsunami and the recovery and rebuilding which followed. Many UN agencies have been heavily involved in the major international effort in the affected nations. The lessons learned from the response and recovery do have application for many other countries in which we work together.

We all acknowledge the Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004 as a devastating event whose impact we will never forget. The death toll was enormous : more than 228,000 people were killed. Hundreds of thousands of survivors were left injured, homeless, and traumatised. Poor communities were thrown even deeper into poverty.

And as the report we are discussing today makes clear, most of those who died were women, the elderly and children.

At the time when we saw the terrible images of the tsunami and its aftermath on our television screens, it was difficult to imagine how the devastated peoples, communities, and countries could return to a sense of normality.

What was truly heartwarming, however, was that this appalling tragedy brought out the very best in human nature, with a worldwide outpouring of support for the victims.

From the very beginning, this relief and recovery effort generated unprecedented generosity from countries, corporations, and individuals around the globe. An enormous amount has been achieved which is a credit to all involved.

Early in the recovery phase, the importance of “building back better”, with greater resilience to future risk, was emphasised.  National and local governments, civil society and private sector organisations, international humanitarian and development actors, a large number of UN agencies, and, most importantly, the affected communities themselves, recognised the importance in recovery of surpassing what had existed before.

So, for example, when schools were re-built in the Maldives, it was with more solid construction. As well, disaster awareness programmes are now included in the school curriculum there.

In India, new models of community-based fishery management are being tested in 55 villages, and support is being provided to establish small fishery-related businesses.

In Thailand, efforts in the education sector have aimed to improve the quality of facilities for marginalised groups, with safe drinking water being brought to schools in some of the poorest communities.

In Sri Lanka, resettlement and other programmes were designed not only to include tsunami-affected communities, but also to aid victims of that country’s conflict. 

And in Aceh in Indonesia, by the epicenter of the disaster, over 1,300 schools and 880 hospitals have been constructed or repaired. Here, there has also been impressive progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

In a number of the countries worst affected by the tsunami, UN agencies have helped establish state-of-the-art disaster management structures, with quicker response capabilities. As well, a regional tsunami early warning system has been operational since 2006.

Now, as many organisations end their recovery projects or transform them into longer-term development activities, we have the opportunity to share best practice on how to respond and help communities recover faster and more effectively from disasters in the future.

One of the principal lessons drawn early on from the tsunami is that all countries need to be better prepared for when natural disaster strikes. We know what preventive measures need to be taken, and we know they save lives.  What is needed is bold action – from governments, the UN, and other partners - to make sure that appropriate disaster risk reduction measures are established.

Such measures need to be incorporated in national development plans and actions, so that risk can be reduced for vulnerable communities. Gender concerns also need to be reflected in the ongoing recovery processes.

The tsunami recovery effort has showed that with all partners, including the United Nations  family, working together – and collaborating with local communities at every step – we can indeed “build back better”.

Across the United Nations agencies, there is a commitment to sustaining the momentum of recovery in the affected countries, and to continue working and delivering as one system to support those in continuing need. 

I thank all those who have contributed to producing this comprehensive report, The Tsunami Legacy: Innovation, Breakthroughs, and Change.

We must resolve to ensure that the lessons we have learned are not forgotten, and that best practice in recovery is widely shared. We owe that to all those whose lives were destroyed or changed forever by the tsunami.

Thank you.

It is now my pleasure now to invite H.E. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, to deliver his remarks. Secretary-General, you have the floor.