Financial Times - Mozambique Summit -Resilient Infrastructure and Disaster Risk Reduction

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

Resilient Infrastructure and Disaster Risk Reduction

10 September 2019

Financial Times Summit, Maputo


Ms. Mami Mizutori

Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk

Reduction and Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction


Check against delivery

I appreciate the opportunity to be here with you today and to express the support of the UN family for Mozambique and its efforts to recover from the impacts of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth earlier this year.

We ignore the lessons from this startling disaster at our peril.

This event whereby back-to-back cyclones left a trail of death, injury, economic loss and destruction, has set a grim precedent for an uncertain future in this age of global crisis driven by climate change.

The key lesson is that we must prepare and adapt for a future where extreme weather events will recur with increasing intensity and regularity.

The Paris Agreement on climate aims to keep global warming to 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels but real action on climate has yet to happen. Disaster risk management in Mozambique will still have to contend with the fall-out from the current record levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, and the havoc they will continue to play with the world’s climate and weather.

Over 600 people died and almost two million had their lives turned upside down by these cyclones. Several months later, 500,000 people continue to live in destroyed or damaged homes, and over 77,000 now live in new resettlement sites.

These losses occurred despite the advances made by Mozambique in the last twenty years since a combination of floods and a cyclone killed around 700 people and left over 300,000 people displaced or homeless in 2000.

In May, at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction hosted by my office and the Swiss government, the Mozambican government representative reported that as part of its five-year Governance Programme, Mozambique has adopted several measures aligned with the global plan for reducing disaster losses known as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

This plan was adopted by UN member States in 2015 at a UN World Conference and has seven specific targets for reducing loss of life and the numbers of people affected by disasters worldwide.

It also has two targets which are very relevant to today’s discussion, namely to achieve substantial reductions in economic losses and damage to critical infrastructure.

Mozambique has a legal framework for disaster management which allows for early warnings and coordinated action by all civil protection bodies. There is no doubt that were it not for the actions of these groups, disaster losses would be significantly higher in extreme weather events.

A good national strategy for disaster risk reduction requires good data for it to be effective and well-targeted. Despite the estimates available for major events that happen every twenty years or so, there is too little understanding of the recurring, often extensive disaster events which undermine the country’s long-term development efforts and the overarching challenge of reducing poverty.

That is why earlier today I was pleased to open a two-day workshop which will result in the maintenance and updating of the current national disaster loss database for Mozambique. Currently, losses in human lives caused by multiple hazards and captured in the database for the period between 2000 and 2012 amount to 9,891 persons. During the same period, 474,669 houses had been destroyed and damaged.

It is difficult if not impossible to manage what you cannot measure.

This database will not only improve accounting for the human impact of extreme weather events such as storms, floods, wildfires, drought and heatwaves but also encourage a more rigorous approach to validating and confirming economic losses and damage to critical infrastructure.

The most recent calculation that I have seen indicates that over 60% of the country’s 30 million people live in extreme poverty on less than $2 per day, however Mozambique has had impressive economic growth in recent years. It is important to ensure that disasters do not increase poverty thereby increasing vulnerability to natural hazards.

It is the country’s rural and urban poor which are most at the mercy of climate change and extreme weather events. They bear the brunt of the losses in terms of housing, access to schools and health facilities, water and sanitation.

It is the land that they depend on for slash and burn agriculture that is most vulnerable to river floods and tidal surges. These fires which are vividly displayed in satellite images are devastating to the environment and action on wildfires must be a feature in any local strategies for disaster risk reduction because it results in significant soil erosion and accompanying landslides, and increased levels of respiratory disease.

It is in the interests of all sectors of society, including the private sector, to gain a better understanding of how to build up a risk-informed, resilient country going forward.

It is an all too common feature of extreme weather events in low and middle-income countries that development gains are wiped out overnight and the equivalent of a huge percentage of GDP is lost.

These losses occur primarily because the man-made environment is not fit for purpose. This is why the Sendai Framework places such emphasis on building back better and why this year on International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, October 13, we are putting the emphasis on resilient infrastructure and building to last.

Mozambique has found out the hard way that the most expensive school – hospital - road - public utility…. is the one that must be re-built after being destroyed in a storm or a flood.

The city of Beira has been around for over 100 years. Lessons from the cyclone indicate that it would be critical to strengthen coastal protection against future cyclones and tidal surges, for which some US$90 million is needed in order to ensure that the city becomes a resilient and prosperous hub.

According to Beira’s authorities, the city needs US$ 685 million to ensure minimal recovery from cyclone Idai including expansion of the city’s drainage system, upgrading the sanitation and solid waste management systems, and rehabilitation of the city’s roads and public spaces.

All of this will require continued international cooperation, support from the World Bank and the UN family but most of all it requires political commitment, civil society engagement and private sector support to ensure that the reconstruction effort results in a resilient city which can cope with the most extreme weather events.

I cannot emphasize too much the importance of good economic data when it comes to developing strategies for disaster risk management, raising awareness and bringing the private sector on board in a positive way.

Disaster risk management has great potential not only to support long-term economic growth in the country but to contribute to eradicating poverty and reducing hunger, two very important Sustainable Development Goals.

Concern about resilient infrastructure goes much deeper than simply ensuring the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, schools, health facilities and power lines that are resistant to natural hazards.

It is ultimately about people, reducing the impact of disasters on their daily lives and avoiding the disruptions which the climate emergency is systematically wreaking across the world in the form of more intense and unpredictable events such as drought, storms, floods, wildfires and heatwaves.

By one estimate, low- and middle-income countries are spending US$ 1 trillion annually on infrastructure every year. The big question is how wisely this money is being spent when, even in normal times, there is evidence of power outages, transport failures, traffic grid lock and water shortages.

It needs to be a basic rule of thumb that major infrastructure is only put in place following a detailed risk assessment.

Risk models and data on disaster losses can guide these investments to ensure they are improving the resilience of assets which are exposed to extreme events.

The failure to provide and maintain resilient critical infrastructure is a major brake on efforts to achieve sustainable development.

If you intend to build back better or build to last, maintenance is a key part of that.

There needs to be acceptance of the fact that resilient infrastructure - even if future proofing adds a small percentage to the cost - more than pays for itself in the long-term.

In low-income countries, power outages, for example, can be daily occurrences which are only worsened by the impact of a natural hazard. Building to last, strengthens the national economy and reduces considerably the impact of natural hazards and disruption to people’s lives.

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