I have the honour to speak on behalf of Pacific States at the United Nations.
First, we extend our sympathies to Fiji for its losses during recent flooding; and to our neighbour Indonesia for the powerful earthquake experienced this week in Aceh. Both are timely reminders of the on-going risks posed by disasters in our region.
Mr President, it is particularly important for Pacific states that disaster risk reduction become a priority within the UN system. Most Pacific countries are small island developing states, with limited human and financial resources and many competing policy priorities. Most are highly vulnerable to economic shocks and natural hazards.
Last year there were over one hundred natural disasters in the Pacific region. The majority were under-reported in the international media, because the human and economic losses appear low compared to ‘mega disasters’ in much larger countries. But often the local level impact on communities and the economic impact on the country as a whole are enormous.
This situation is predicted to worsen over the coming century, as countries in our region are increasingly exposed to disasters fuelled by the acceleration of climate change, and exacerbated by increased urbanisation. As the world’s population rapidly expands, so too is the number of people living in disaster-prone areas such as coastlines. Such vulnerability has long been a fact of life for many Pacific communities living on low lying coral atolls.
Economic losses for a country as a result of natural disasters are also increasing at a significant pace, with the risk of losing wealth now outstripping the rate at which wealth itself is created. The relatively small economies of most Pacific Island Countries are particularly vulnerable. Pacific States make up eight of the top 20 countries ranked according to average annual disaster loses scaled by GDP. One natural disaster can destroy many years of hard-won development gains.
Pacific states are aware that natural hazards, such as earthquakes, tsunami and cyclones, do not necessarily become disasters. Disaster risk reduction is about reducing exposure to hazards, reducing levels of vulnerability and strengthening the resilience of communities to be better prepared for and able to respond to potential disasters. Sound decision-making on public investments is one of the most important elements in any efforts to reduce such risks and improve resilience.
In practice this means we need to make and implement political, technological and financial commitments when addressing challenges posed by climate change, sustainable land use, population growth and environmental management. We know from the evidence that sound decisions at the beginning of this process lay the foundations for effective disaster risk reduction strategies, with corresponding savings in both lives and property.
Mr President, activities such as fisheries, tourism and agriculture form the economic base in many Pacific countries. The sustainability of these sectors is becoming increasing reliant on efforts to reduce disaster risks, including through adaptation to climate change and strengthening of early warning systems.
So an important message for us as we engage in the Rio+20 process is that disaster risk reduction is essential for achieving sustainable development. Any future framework for sustainable development needs to include a clear prescription and provide for the practical application of effective disaster and climate risk management. This will ensure development gains are maintained and enhanced.
Our region regards disaster risk reduction as a cross-cutting development issue that must be addressed by taking account of all three pillars of sustainable development.
We are therefore pleased that disaster risk reduction has been identified as an emerging issue in the Rio +20 process, and is the subject of this thematic debate. Both provide opportunities to continue the discussion on finding innovative solutions to addressing the challenges of disaster risk and climate change adaptation, and of building on the Hyogo Framework for Action, the outcome document of the High Level Review on Implementation of the Mauritius Strategy, and other relevant high level meetings.
Mr President, our region has been grappling with these issues for many years, and has already made considerable progress. There is much that we can share based on our experience, achievements and lessons learned. We stand ready to contribute constructively to this discussion, and to explore opportunities to advance sustainable development through disaster risk reduction, including adaptation to climate change.