Closing remarks of Ms. Margareta Wahlstrom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction:
At the outset, let me express my thanks to the President of the General Assembly for convening this important debate. My thanks also goes to the panellists and to the active participation of Member States.
Given the range of issues discussed over the two sessions, it is not a simple task to summarise the rich and varied contributions. However, there will be a President’s Summary from today’s debate, and given the important contributions made, we will also look at producing a more detailed report to capture proceedings in full.
Let me leave you with some key highlights:
From the morning session the benefits of setting clear priorities, in the context of urban risk reduction, was a strong message from the mayors, as was recognising the vulnerabilities and values of cities. Some clear examples of how to increase a city’s resilience were outlined, including measuring and mapping. Making progress on risk management requires a clear understanding of the risk and of measuring that risk.
Empowering local governments and communities, including supporting decentralisation, and giving those who are responsible the tools to make the right decisions are critically important.
In addition, taking a proactive approach to urban planning and seeing it as a process that involves communities. There is also a need to understand that there are limits, but not to under utilise existing resources.
It was heartening to hear powerful examples, from Quito which has undertaken a very planned approach to reducing its vulnerability, and from Istanbul, which has been working for over a decade to reduce its vulnerability to earthquakes, in part, by setting priorities to be addressed systematically, given that size and magnitude of the challenges faced.
It is very clear that the knowledge and best practices exist. There is a wealth of experiences, lessons and knowledge, but that more needs to be done to take advantage of this valuable wealth of knowledge. So the challenge is how to bring the local to the national level, and the national to the global level so that others can benefit and make full use of these experiences.
We heard from a number of our panellists, including from Mr. Chowdhury and the powerful example of Japan, that we cannot eliminate risk entirely. There is a need to anticipate, to observe, to understand and to give space to nature.
The importance of social infrastructure was also outlined. Schools and health facilities are critical priorities for safety, both for the obvious social reasons but equally for the role they play following a disaster, such as providing shelter.
It was stimulating to hear from the representative from AECOM, and to ask ourselves to look at who is sitting at the table. This is a critical question, as it’s very hard to integrate the perspective of issues which are not represented. Hence the importance of taking a multi-stakeholder, multi-institutional approach.
In the afternoon, we focused on small island States, LDCs and Africa where the discussions re-enforced the need to look at addressing the vicious cycle of disasters, development losses and the increasing indebtedness of small island States.
Equally, we also heard of practical action in addressing disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation by Bangladesh and Jamaica, in addition to some very concrete examples from Mr. John Schneider on his work.
The message from these examples was that there’s no need to be discouraged, we actually know what to do. But that there is every reason to accelerate action as we are out of sync with the accumulation of risk.
On mechanisms, we heard about the importance of frameworks for cooperation, legislation but also the need for strong leadership, at all levels of government, particularly in the absence of other formal instruments.
We heard about the economic opportunities, and challenges, well managed ecosystems provide and some examples of how to apply ecosystem management to build resilience. Incorporating this in practice, into a coherent approach, however, remains a challenge.
There was recognition that technology can not solve everything. There is a lot more to be done in understanding more traditional ways of managing risk, and to adapt these so that more complex societal structures can benefit for this.
A lot of discussion was centred around the role of science. There was an acknowledgement that there is a trust gap and that more needs to be done to foster a culture of research. Equally, it is clear that decision-makers need to recognise the importance of science in the decision-making process.
There was a call for more investment in science, and given limited resources, the advantages of regional collaboration were highlighted.
And finally, many speakers underlined the importance of integrating disaster risk and risk perspectives into the sustainable development framework, in Rio and beyond.
Thank you very much Mr. President.
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