Sendai Framework can keep us above water: Kiribati’s President

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
President Anote Tong of Kiribati and Margareta Wahlström, head of UNISDR, shared the podium at Tuesday's COP21 event on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (Photo: UNISDR)
President Anote Tong of Kiribati and Margareta Wahlström, head of UNISDR, shared the podium at Tuesday's COP21 event on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (Photo: UNISDR)

PARIS, 1 December 2015 - The leader of one of the Pacific island nations most vulnerable to rising sea levels says the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction can help protect the existence of his threatened country.

“We have to stay above the water and the Sendai Framework includes many provisions that will help us to survive,” said President Anote Tong of Kiribati, who has gained a global profile for his impassioned appeals for action on climate change.

“I have been repeating it for the last decade, we are very fragile. And climate change is already happening to us. Our food crops are already damaged by new climate patterns, and we are already changing the way we live,” President Tong told delegates at COP21 -- the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“We are in the middle of El Niño. We have now too much water but after that we will suffer from a dry climate. The Sendai Framework together with the Paris climate agreement offer opportunities for more resilience and we want to make them fit with our priorities,” he said at the opening of an event on the Sendai Framework held on Tuesday.

The 15-year Sendai Framework, adopted by the international community in March, seeks to bring about substantial reductions in disaster mortality, the number of people affected, and economic losses. To do so, it calls on countries around the world to help each other to tackle disaster risk head on and boost the resilience of societies to natural and man-made hazards.

The Central Pacific country of Kiribati, which is made up of three dozen atolls, is home to around 100,000 people. President Tong has raised the spectre of his people eventually being forced to migrate as the sea threatens their communities.

“We will adapt for sure or migrate with dignity,” he said at the Sendai Framework event.

“But I refuse to speak about climate refugees. We will prepare our people, providing them with international standards, so they can move with dignity and bring positive things to the countries that will welcome them.”

Tuesday’s event took the form of an interactive discussion, focussing on national government action to link climate change and disaster risk reduction. It was chaired by Margareta Wahlström, the UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The discussions were also guided by Peru’s Minister of Environment Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who presided over COP20 in 2014, plus Britain’s Chief Scientist Julia Slingo, the Maldives’ Minister of State for Environment and Energy Abdullahi Majeed, and the Deputy Secretary General of the East African Community Jesca Eriyo.

Many participants stressed the importance of non-state actors for scaling up resilience, of more regional cooperation and of national implementation of the Sendai Framework to ensure more resilience. Some also deplored that the Sendai Framework and disaster risk reduction were not highlighted sufficiently in the current climate negotiations and called for more reflection of it.

A report issued last week by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the Belgian-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), showed that over the last twenty years, 90 percent of major disasters have been caused by 6,457 recorded floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and other weather-related events.

The report also demonstrated that since the first COP in 1995, 606,000 lives have been lost and 4.1 billion people have been injured, left homeless or in need of emergency assistance as a result of weather-related disasters.

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