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Helen Clark: Speech at the Launch of the Tsunami Global Lessons Learned Project Disaster Recovery Toolkit

09 Feb 2015

My thanks go to the Steering Committee of the Tsunami Global Lessons Learned Project for hosting this event to launch the Disaster Recovery Toolkit developed in partnership with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC).

It is a privilege to be here alongside Pak Kuntoro, who had such a significant role in shaping Indonesia’s response to the tsunami ten years ago.

Let me also express my appreciation to the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre for developing the toolkit.

Indonesia’s efforts on disaster risk reduction are a success story. This country is ranked second in the world for extreme natural hazard risk. In the years following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, a terrible tragedy which claimed over 126,000 lives in Indonesia and caused US$ 4.45 billion worth of damage, the Government made major policy and other changes to address disaster risks.

Among the new initiatives was a UNDP-supported Safer Communities for Disaster Risk Reduction programme, which, since 2007, has established local disaster risk management agencies in all high disaster risk areas.

More broadly, UNDP has worked with Indonesia to integrate disaster risk reduction into its national five-year development plan, meaning that future activities to reduce disaster risk will be prioritised in the state budget.

Indonesia now has comprehensive guidelines and tools for assessing damage, loss, and needs for post-disaster recovery. It is recognised as having among the very best policy and institutional capacity for large-scale disaster recovery in South-East Asia.

The result of this investment in preparedness and recovery was demonstrated when a 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit Aceh province in January 2012. There was very little damage and, most important of all, no lives were lost. The community response systems worked efficiently, tsunami warnings by the Aceh Government were issued on time, and people were able to evacuate safely.

Even though every disaster is unique in its magnitude and impact, there are always lessons which can be gathered and applied to help improve our ability to mitigate, prepare, and respond more effectively to future disasters.

The toolkit we are launching today avoids providing prescriptive guidance. Rather,` it highlights key factors to take into account. These are supported by evidence, and they allow the users of the toolkit to adapt its guidance to the local context in which they operate. The aim is to make communities and nations more resilient.

Disasters of the magnitude of the Indian Ocean Tsunami don’t only affect those directly hit by the disaster. The effects go far beyond the communities directly affected. It was a crisis which deserved and got a global response. I am proud to say that when I was Prime Minister of New Zealand, my government was one of those which stepped forward quickly to help.

This tragedy brought out the very best in human nature, with the relief and recovery effort representing unprecedented generosity, a point I was pleased to be able to make at the launch of the Tsunami Global Lessons Learned Study Report (The Tsunami Legacy: Innovations, Breakthrough and Change) in April 2009 at United Nations Headquarters in New York, which was attended by President Clinton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

One of the key themes of the post-2015 development agenda is the need to approach development challenges holistically.

For example, a challenge which at first glance might be seem to be one for the health sector alone may not be able to be effectively addressed through the responses it can make on its own. For disaster response and recovery, comprehensive and cross sectoral approaches are definitely needed.

This ‘Disaster Recovery Toolkit’ facilitates such approaches, and presents the way forward in an accessible way. Its specific guidelines focusing on housing, livelihoods, critical facilities, and land-use are useful independently, but they are also integrated within the context of the more general framework of a handbook for recovery and reconstruction.

While the toolkit is explicitly aimed at practitioners, its step-by-step methodology to guide disaster risk reduction practices strikes a good balance between clarity and detail.

Ten years after the Indian Ocean Tsunami struck the coast of Aceh and Nias, the area has not only recovered, but also seen a transformation. The experiences there show how incorporating the principles of sustainability into post-disaster recovery planning can improve the welfare of communities for the medium and long term.

Planners must strive to build bridges between emergency relief, recovery, and longer term development, so that disaster-devastated communities can build back better in order to be more resilient to future shocks and disruption.

It is also important to understand that disasters impact on social groups differently. Some groups are inherently more vulnerable than others. Often the poor live in the most drought- and flood- prone regions. Ninety-five per cent of disaster-related deaths occur in developing countries. Within countries, it is the most marginalized, including women and girls, who suffer the greatest impact of disasters.

The 2004 tsunami claimed the lives of many more women than men in the worst affected areas. Its disproportionate impact was influenced by a range of factors; for example, many men were out at sea fishing at the time the tsunami hit. As well, in most societies, women are the primary caregivers for children and the elderly, as well as looking after the family home. This increases their vulnerability in almost all types of natural disasters. Women and girls also suffer more from the shortages of food and other resources following disasters because of inherent institutional and cultural discrimination patterns.

As the global community grapples with the challenges of charting a new path to sustainable development and in defining the Sustainable Development Goals, lessons from disaster recovery affirm the need to pay special attention to the needs of women, children, disabled people, and other vulnerable or marginalised groups.

Climate change is making extreme weather events more frequent and less predictable. Heat waves, droughts, floods, and violent storms are predicted to become much more common in the decades to come, making disaster risk reduction around such events an even more urgent priority.

Money invested in reducing disaster risk makes good economic sense. Research by the UN and the World Bank has shown that, while specific cases may vary, for every dollar invested in minimising risk, about seven dollars will be saved in economic losses from disasters.

In March this year, a new global framework on disaster reduction will be agreed upon in Sendai, Japan. It will be important for countries like Indonesia to push for preparedness and risk reduction approaches to feature prominently in the new framework as an important component of overall sustainable development and resilience strategies.

I wholeheartedly congratulate the Tsunami Global Lessons Learned Project Steering Committee, led by Pak Kuntoro and the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre, for producing this Toolkit. I am confident that the toolkit will be of great use in many countries in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond