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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

25 August 2021

ESCAP

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

Professor Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization,

Mr. Houlin Zhao, Secretary General, International Telecommunication Union,

Ms. Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction,  

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the seventh session of the Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction. I look forward to our deliberations as we seek common solutions to reducing our vulnerabilities to disasters and building resilience across the Asia-Pacific region.

The COVID-19 pandemic, with its epicentre now in our region, has changed the world since this Committee met in 2019. The tragic consequences and socioeconomic hardships of the pandemic have been exacerbated by extreme climate events. The region has witnessed unprecedented floods in China, one of the deadliest cyclones in the Arabian sea that devastated India’s west coast, torrential rains in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, and massive wildfires that raged across Turkey. Indonesia recorded more than 70 floods and landslides in June 2021 itself. Extreme climate events occurring in quick succession signal an emergency that cannot be ignored.

The recent IPCC Report on Climate Change 2021 indicates an increasing trend of heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts and tropical cyclones. The expanded contours of our region’s risk landscape have put the lives and livelihoods of millions at stake. It has also brought to the fore the need to prioritize post-COVID-19 resilience and disaster preparedness in the region.

The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2021 assesses the human and economic costs of converging natural and biological hazards that are occurring along with climate change. Let me share three key messages from the Report to further our discussions on how to build disaster, climate and health resilience.

First, notwithstanding the progress made by many countries in devising more robust systems of early warning and responsive protection -- with far fewer people dying as a result of natural disasters -- the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that almost without exception, countries around the world are still ill-prepared to deal with multiple overlapping crises, which often cascade, with one triggering another. Tropical cyclones, for example, can lead to floods, which lead to disease, which exacerbates poverty. The Report identifies hotspots where people are at greatest risk and highlights the vulnerabilities of marginal groups, such as the poor who live in several of the region’s extensive river basins.

Second, under a worst-case climate change scenario, annual economic losses could rise to $1.3 trillion, or 4.2 per cent of the region’s GDP.

Third, annual adaptation costs under the same worst-case climate scenario could amount to $ 270 billion, equivalent to 0.85 per cent of regional GDP, significantly less than the estimated annual economic losses of 4.2 per cent of regional GDP.

Thus, it is critical for countries to build resilience to respond to converging hazards that are impacting their people and their economy. The Report suggests four pathways at the national level to building resilience:

  • Investing in policy coherence
  • Integrating multi-hazard early warning systems
  • Investing in climate adaptation and resilience
  • Investing in climate and disaster-resilient infrastructure

Furthermore, a subregional approach to adaptation will ensure the greatest benefits. In this regard, we are in partnership with our United Nations family and other international players  to scale up our subregional initiatives. May I give a few examples:

  • In East and North-East Asia, in line with the North-East Asian Subregional Programme for Environmental Cooperation (NEASPEC), we are focusing on desertification and its interlinkages with climate change.  
  • In South and South-West Asia, we are working on a new framework for managing cascading risks from natural and biological hazards.
  • In South-East Asia, we are supporting the ASEAN secretariat to develop an action plan on adaptation to drought in the implementation of an ASEAN Declaration adopted at the 37th ASEAN summit.
  • In North and Central Asia, we are promoting a multisectoral risk management approach to environmental disasters.
  • In the Pacific, in collaboration with organizations in the UN system, we are promoting universal social protection as a key means of strengthening resilience to disasters, climate and health challenges.   

As we look to the future, we must recognize that disasters have no demarcations between natural and biological hazards, nor do they know any boundaries. Therefore, we hope that through this session of the Committee, regional and subregional gaps in building resilience are filled. Countries across the region should strengthen their cooperation through overarching initiatives, such as the Asia-Pacific Disaster Resilience Network. Building on the Sendai Framework, the Bangkok Principles and other subregional framework agreements, countries could benefit from a regional strategy incorporating common and sound operational approaches for managing disaster risks in a more holistic, coherent and systematic way.

ESCAP, along with the United Nations family, stand ready to partner with member States and all stakeholders to build a more resilient Asia-Pacific region.  

Thank you and I wish you successful deliberations.

 

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