UN SG meets with global champions

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

SENDAI, 15 March 2015 – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid tribute today to a group of former and serving politicians who are championing disaster risk reduction and thereby striving to save lives and prevent economic losses.

"In your personal and professional capacity you are doing a very important job," he told the officials, from Africa, Asia and Europe, on the sidelines of the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

UNISIDR awards the honorary title of Disaster Risk Reduction Champion to individuals who deploy their political influence to lobby for risk-sensitive policies in their cities and countries, as well as globally.

Among them is Senator Loren Legarda of the Philippines who piloted a landmark 2009 Climate Change Act and the creation in 2010 of a national disaster risk reduction body. As a result of those efforts, each branch of the government in her country has a dedicated disaster risk reduction unit.

“In the Philippines, we face 20 typhoons a year, and we’re also on the Pacific Ring of Fire. So it’s vital for us to become a resilient people,” she said.
While legislation is crucial, it cannot exist in a vacuum and requires constant review, Senator Legarda underlined.

Besides taking part in disaster risk reduction activities themselves, members of the public could also play a key role by holding elected officials to account over their efforts, she said: “Ask your mayors, are you safe in your homes, are you prepared? If not, don’t vote for them.”

Climate change is forcing the world to confront increasingly numerous and intense hazards such as super-storms, floods and droughts, while rapid urbanisation is also a risk factor.

“We have to be humble about nature. We can't fight nature. But we have to be ready,” said the Secretary-General.

Ugandan Member of Parliament Alex Bakunda Byarugaba pointed to the far-reaching impact of droughts and floods, with loss of lives and livelihoods forcing people into abject poverty.

“We can all do something small, in our own way, to try to change the situation,” he said. He underlined that international aid also needs rethinking: “Hitherto, there has been a lot of focus on response, funding planeloads of food. But there hasn’t been a focus on mitigation, on building the resilience of the people.”

Disasters cost US$250-300 billion a year globally, according to UNISDR’s 2015 Global Assessment Report. Failure to build resilience and reduce risk raises the spectre of even greater impact.

“Whatever we gain in economic growth, it will be wasted,” warned the Secretary-General.

Investing in risk reduction and disaster resilience makes good financial sense. "Experts say that if we spend one dollar on disaster risk reduction we will gain seven dollars. If I was a businessman, I'd invest that dollar,” he said.

Saber Hossain Chowdhury, a member of parliament from Bangladesh who is also President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, also took part.

The Secretary-General noted that Bangladesh’s record was impressive.

"Bangladesh used to see terrible things, where tens of thousands of people were killed by cyclones. It has done many important things, and the toll is now in the hundreds. Still terrible, but it used to be tens of thousands,” he said.

The other Champions at the meeting were: Kristalina Georgieva, European Commission Vice-President for Budget and Human Resources; Tarja Halonen, former president of Finland; Abdirahin Haithar Haji Abdi of Kenya, former speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly; Fatimetou Abdel Malick, mayor of Tevragh-Zeina in Mauritania; Graciela Ortuzar Novoa, mayor of Lampa in Chile; Sendai’s mayor Emiko Okuyama; and Gay Mitchell, an Irish former member of the European parliament.

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