Helen Clark: Speech at the Launch of the Sub-Regional Human Development Report on Risk-Proofing the Western Balkans: Empowering People to Prevent Disasters

May 20, 2016

Workers clearing up after floods of 2014 Photo: UNDP in Bosnia & Herzegovina

I am delighted to launch the Sub-Regional Human Development Report (HDR) on Risk-Proofing the Western Balkans: Empowering People to Prevent Disasters. This report is an important contribution to efforts to ensure that countries and communities in the Western Balkans are resilient to disasters. It is part of a global effort to ensure that all development is risk-informed and people-centred. My thanks go to H.E. Mr. Mirko Sarovic, Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for joining us at the launch today. 

During the last two decades, disasters worldwide have killed more than 1.3 million people and cost over USD $2 trillion globally.  All countries in the Western Balkans region have been affected by multiple hazards. During the 2014 floods in the region, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes, and there were extensive losses of homes, businesses, agricultural land, and community infrastructure. 

Among this sub-region’s 25 million people,  the most vulnerable bear a disproportionate share of the costs and consequences of disasters: the urban and rural poor; self-employed agricultural households; persons with disabilities; Roma; the elderly; and women and children. Gender disparities became even more evident in the aftermath of the floods, as women and children became more susceptible to gender-based violence.

It is remarkable how much national authorities, international donors, and the affected communities have achieved by working together over the past two years to support recovery from the floods. Climate projections, however, indicate that in the future natural and human-induced factors will result in more floods, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires in the region. As this new Human Development Report notes, those disasters will be even more unpredictable, frequent, and intense.

Human Development Report key messages

The HDR highlights the importance of risk-informed, climate-smart development as a means of reducing the risk of future disasters. It highlights innovative, development-based approaches to preventing disasters in the region, and to reducing their impact. The report contains three key messages:

First: people must be placed at the centre of disaster risk reduction. At-risk and affected communities can become agents of change, and must not be perceived only as potential victims or survivors of disasters. If people are empowered especially through investments in their capacities, they are likely to reduce their exposure to risks. For example, they can make better decisions about where and how their homes are constructed and about the use of natural resources.

Second: broader development planning and action must integrate disaster risk reduction. If development isn’t risk-informed, it won’t be sustainable. All parts of government and the development organisations which support them must integrate climate change and disaster-related scenarios and planning into all their programmes and actions.

Third: when disaster does strike, the impact should be assessed through a human development lens. Disasters result in loss of life, livelihoods, GDP, and infrastructure, but there is also longer-term loss of human potential which is less easily quantified. When children’s schools or day care centres are washed away, or when women must care for those affected by the floods and are unable to earn income, there are costs for communities and countries which must be counted and provided for.

The report also highlights the possibilities afforded by “big data” and new technologies in seeking to protect lives and livelihoods from disasters. For example, spatial mapping based on open source software and early warning systems based on text messaging can empower communities and individuals to reduce risks and become agents of change. Governments can make important contributions to disaster risk reduction and recovery by enabling their citizens to play a full part.

Global support for disaster risk reduction

Risk informed development requires new commitments and mind sets on the part of policy makers, practitioners, planners, community leaders, and the international community. Some changes will require new institutions, processes, laws, and budgets. Effective disaster risk reduction also calls for crowd-sourced knowledge and innovation, and the involvement of affected people throughout all the processes before, during, and after disasters.

The discussion taking place today in Sarajevo about how to apply the lessons of the HDR will echo regionally and globally. This region is not alone in facing unforeseen meteorological risks and climate change. It is not alone in searching for the new solutions needed to help countries, communities, and individuals become resilient to future disasters. 

Most hazards in the Western Balkans and elsewhere are, or have the potential to become, trans-boundary events for which regional collaboration is essential. With relatively small investments, the Western Balkans can collaborate more effectively through better use of regional and global research and datasets, more community-based activities, open-source and other cutting-edge software, and better communications platforms for schools, hospitals, authorities, and citizens.

Globally, intergovernmental negotiations last year led to the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. These included reducing disaster risk as a key objective.

Now the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit taking place in Istanbul next week is another opportunity to highlight the importance of disaster risk reduction.

Last year UNDP announced the development of its new “5-10-50” global programme on disaster risk reduction. UNDP works with countries throughout the world, including in this region, to support adaptation to climate change, and to find innovative ways to ensure that lives are protected, economies and infrastructure are resilient to disasters, and the most vulnerable communities and people become agents of change.

At UNDP, we look forward to working together with you all on new initiatives to support countries to provide adequate protection, including for the region’s most vulnerable people, and to leave no one behind in the global effort to achieve sustainable, risk informed, climate-smart, and people-centred development.


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