Remarks by SRSG Mami Mizutori at the 102nd AMS meeting – Presidential Debate

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

 102nd AMS meeting – Presidential Debate

23 January, 4-5PM local time in Dallas, Texas

SRSG Mami Mizutori


Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the last few years, our world has been pummeled by a disease we were not prepared for, in spite of the fact that in 2015 when UN member states came together to negotiate and agree on the global blue print for disaster risk reduction and resilience, the Sendai Framework for DRR, biological hazards were incorporated as the next big hazard we need to protect ourselves from. COVID-19 has  left hardly anyone or any aspect of our lives untouched. Losing loved ones, becoming ill,  struggling with isolation, loss of livelihoods and changing social norms.

Although the overwhelming number of disasters in the last 50 years – about 90% - have been extreme weather related, COVID - with its abrupt arrival and  universal impact - has been a stark reminder that we live in a world where  risk is interconnected with cascading impacts and disasters are compounded. As risk multiplies/ increasing impacts affect whole communities and whole systems. Global impacts become local; local impacts become global, and they penetrate across sectors creating new challenges.

But in a world of uncertainty, some things are certain: if we want to achieve sustainable development, we need to better understand the nature of risk that is surrounding us and we need to make prudent choices, NOW.  Our goal at the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction is to support countries minimize losses from disaster through investment in preparation and prevention, before a hazard becomes a disaster. There are numerous ways we can take action in the face of future pandemics and climate emergency. I would like to offer a few ideas today.

First, our financial and governance systems need to account for the true costs of our actions. This is a huge challenge. But one tool that can help is systemic risk modeling, which is built on innovations in modeling systemic financial crises. These models can help us better understand how risk cascades throughout different sectors and geographies, disrupting key systems like food, infrastructure, and supply chains, and further drive social impacts such as forced migration and conflict. UNDRR is working with governments of both developed and developing countries, academia, civil society and the private sector to improve access to these analytics and data.

Second, we need to find and implement solutions together as we all ultimately have the same interest: a sustainable planet that supports human thriving. It is through our combined knowledge and efforts, including robust global partnerships, that we will and we can make the most progress. Given the importance of local resilience with cities at the frontline of all disasters, at UNDRR, resilient cities is a strong focus. Along with eleven global partners, we’re helping cities stand prepared for the next disaster through a program called Making Cities Resilient 2030. An online platform offers a dashboard to connect with networks, information and service providers. We encourage all cities to explore this option. 

Third, our mantra at UNDRR is that resilience is a wise investment - not an extra cost. One such investment is in early warning systems. The United States has some wonderful early-warning tools that are saving lives and mitigating losses. An app called Shake Alert helps citizens on the West Coast to take cover before an earthquake. In Houston, a radar-based flood assessment, mapping and early-warning system helps emergency managers better address multi-risk situations – such as COVID-19 and flooding coming together. This pioneering work will pay countless dividends. Our hope is to see such systems proliferate throughout the world, including in the developing world where many countries are still in need. Here again, strong partnerships, strategic investment and shared knowledge is  invaluable.

No doubt, few among us like to see rising prices. But faltering supply chains could do a good job, actually, of reminding us of our interdependence, and that  working together is a necessity and not an option. The Covid virus instigated this chain reaction. But with effects still unfolding, it is a story still being written. Supply chains might become more regional, and thus less-polluting; companies may get more focused on their business contingency plans; and the world may ultimately take risk and disasters more seriously.

COVID could become our opportunity to make the paradigm shift  from trying to manage and responding to disasters after they break us, to managing disaster risks by investing in resilience before hazards become disasters.

In the era of climate emergency, systemic risk  and compounded disasters, we cannot afford to waste any disaster, and certainly not one which is as powerful as this pandemic. Thank you very much.  

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