Excellency, Mr. Delfin Lorenzana, Secretary of the Department of National Defense of the Philippines,
Excellency, Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of the ASEAN,
Excellency Ministers, Distinguished participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,
At the outset, I would like to extend my appreciation to Excellency Mr. Delfin Lorenzana, as the Chair of this 8th Session of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Disaster Management for providing this opportunity to highlight drought as part of ASEAN’s broader action on disasters and climate change.
Building resilience to drought requires multi-disciplinary and inter-country cooperation which can be delivered more effectively through institutional collaboration. I therefore would like to thank the ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi for the productive partnership and collaboration with ESCAP.
We meet against the backdrop of unrelenting climate-related disasters across the region. In the past two months alone, flooding and landslides have struck parts of Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Thailand. A typhoon struck central Viet Nam. The Philippines has been hit even harder, with four typhoons in quick succession. Each of these events has taken its toll on human lives and livelihoods.
Earlier in the year, the public health crises, societal disruptions and economic downturns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic struck a region already grappling with the aftermath of two successive droughts which exceeded anything recorded in the past two decades, since the major El Niño of 1997-1998.
Ultimately, the events of 2020 have clearly demonstrated that when multiple hazards interact, they can set off cascading disasters that cause widespread devastation. It is in this context that together with the ASEAN secretariat we launch the second edition of Ready for the Dry Years report.
The Report provides compelling evidence as to why adaptation to drought should remain high on the policy agenda. Now is the time to adopt risk-informed measures that strengthen our institutions, sectors and populations adaptive capacity to the cyclical and slow-onset nature of drought.
The Report shows that South-East Asia has a long history of severe droughts, which recur every five years on average. However, climate models project that the region will continue to experience higher temperatures, which means that the severity and geographic extent of droughts are expected to grow as the climate crisis deepens.
Left unchecked, this intensifying drought risk could damage many sectors of the economy and trap the most vulnerable people in the region into poverty.
During the two major drought events of the past five years, drought directly impacted agricultural production and livelihoods, and led to secondary hazards such as saltwater intrusion and exacerbated forest fires and haze. Together, these undermined food security, eroded savings and income, and threatened public health.
As a result, it is likely that drought exacerbated vulnerabilities to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, immune system response to the virus may have been undermined by food insecurity and malnutrition, transmission rates may have been higher where water shortages restricted access to sanitation, and losses of livelihoods and incomes may have reduced capacities of households to cope with the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic.
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
The time for a paradigm shift towards more proactive drought management is now. This will be essential for protecting development gains in the coming years; and must be a key component of COVID-19 recovery and building back better with resilience.
That the 37th ASEAN Summit uploaded the ASEAN Declaration on the Strengthening of Adaptation to Drought is therefore commendable. The Declaration is a critical first step towards ushering in a paradigm shift in drought management across the region.
Just as the landmark ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) represents the first binding agreement on humanitarian response, the ASEAN Declaration on the Strengthening of Adaptation to Drought will set an example for other regions of the world that face intensifying climate-related risks.
Translating the Declaration into a concrete regional plan of action and ultimately into actions on the ground will be critical. The Report recommends three policy tracks: reduce and prevent, prepare and respond, restore and recover.
This means deploying a wide range of solutions from managing the food, water and energy systems; climate-resilient infrastructure; early warning and climate services; risk financing and insurance and social safety nets.
These efforts will require increased investment, enhanced applications of science and technology applications, cross-sectoral collaboration, and enhanced risk knowledge. We stand ready to support you in mobilizing large-scale collaboration.
In particular, ESCAP will work with you in leveraging the opportunities provided by scientific and technological innovations to strengthen your drought early warning and develop innovative socio-economic policies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has offered indisputable evidence of the need for regional cooperation in the face of profound transboundary challenges, and it has also provided an opportunity to transform how we prepare for future risks.
Recognising these opportunities and scaling up efforts to reduce drought risk will be essential for ensuring that the entire ASEAN Community can effectively adapt to the dry years ahead.