Opening Remarks at the seminar "Towards Developing and Implementing an Integrated Disaster Risk Management in Asia and the Pacific"

Opening Remarks by ADB Vice-President Stephen P. Groff at the seminar "Towards Developing and Implementing an Integrated Disaster Risk Management (DRM) in Asia and the Pacific" at the 46th Annual Meeting of the ADB Board of Governors held on 2 May 2013.

Introduction

Distinguished panel members, participants, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

Over the past 25 years, the Asian Development Bank has invested more than $17 billion in disaster risk management related projects, including almost $11 billion in risk reduction related initiatives. However, much development in Asia and the Pacific continues to occur with little regard to natural hazards, unintentionally exacerbating disaster risk as populations and capital assets expand. Investments in disaster risk reduction have been woefully inadequate to counteract these risk-insensitive development actions. As a consequence, disaster losses are rapidly increasing.  

The Asia Pacific region is particularly vulnerable to natural hazards.  Indeed, of the 10 most serious disasters—in terms of lives lost—that took place during the period 1950-2013, eight were in this region. The region also contains many of the world’s most vulnerable cities. A recent analysis of vulnerability to climate change ranked seven out of a total list of 50 cities as being at “extreme risk” of climate change. All seven are in Asia. Natural hazards present one of the most serious threats to inclusive sustainable socio-economic development in Asia and the Pacific.

One needs to only look at recent disasters such as the Great East Japan Earthquake or the 2011 Thai floods to understand both our vulnerabilities to the forces of nature and their widening consequences, which stretch far beyond directly affected areas. In particular, recent Japanese experience indicated the impact of the natural hazards has been substantially amplified by technological hazards such as nuclear power plants. Compound disaster is much harder to respond to.  Increasing regional integration has been a key driver of economic growth in the region, but it has also diffused the impact of disasters across multiple provincial and international boundaries.

Recent memories of unprecedented disasters and a strong will to learn from experiences provide us the motivation to pursue improved disaster risk management. The international community, through statements and actions, is beginning to make disaster risk management an integral part of national and international development policies, programs, and strategies. This burgeoning impetus needs to be seized upon to stem the tide of rising disaster losses and to secure a resilient future for our region. The imperative for action is even greater in view of the increasing incidence and frequency of climatic hazards that is anticipated as a consequence of climate change.

This seminar, “Towards Developing and Implementing Integrated Disaster Risk Management in Asia and the Pacific,” is a timely and valuable contribution to our efforts to create and maintain resilience to disaster.

As an introduction to the seminar, allow me to remark on the following three areas: (i) the rising incidence of disaster risk in Asia and the Pacific, (ii) ADB’s evolving role in disaster risk management, and (iii) key issues for consideration in today’s seminar.

Rising incidence of disaster risk in Asia and the Pacific

As I mentioned at the outset, the Asia Pacific region is highly vulnerable to hazards. For the period 2002 to 2011, 40% of the world’s reported disasters (1,524) occurred in the region. Fatalities were disproportionately high in Asia and the Pacific, with 63% of global deaths from disaster (669,263) happening here. And, of those affected by disaster, 90% resided in Asia and the Pacific. The economic costs, too, were heavily weighted towards the region at 48% of global damage (US$691 billion). Periodic severe economic loss from disaster is not a new phenomenon. However, the frequency of the natural hazards is increasing and each one getting more intense. As a result losses have followed a gradual upward trend over the past 40 years, outpacing the region’s considerable growth in GDP.

Dynamic economic development in Asia and the Pacific presents both threats and opportunities in disaster risk management. Rapid advances in urbanization as well as expanding industrial hazards serve to magnify the risk of compound disasters. This was seen in the case of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, where an earthquake and resulting tsunami triggered a nuclear accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, together resulting in a compound disaster much larger in impacts than previously considered possible. Governments in the region must pay heed to the growing threat of compound disasters.

Financing, both public and private, plays a key role in building resilience and a safe society.  Comprehensive disaster risk financing strategies can be developed to provide sufficient financing both for risk reduction and disaster response. The insurance industry, which provides instruments for transferring risk, needs to be enhanced to support this process.

Strong governance at national and regional levels is critical to improving resilience to disaster. Disaster reduction, preparedness and response mechanisms must be an integral function of government. Coordination among all levels of government is also essential. Wider regional cooperation across governments in Asia and Pacific to tackle common disaster risk management challenges offers many additional benefits. The corporate sector and NGOs, too, can be strong partners for the government.

The role of ADB in disaster risk management

In 1987, ADB became the first multilateral development bank to institute a dedicated disaster policy. Mainstreaming disaster risk management in national and international development strategies, policies, and programs has indeed been a key objective of ADB, as is stated in our Strategy 2020 roadmap.

For the period August 1987 to December 2012, ADB approved US$17.6 billion for 560 disaster risk management projects. 62% of the resulting loans were used for disaster risk reduction activities, while 28% were for post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction, and the remaining 10% for emergency assistance. The key change that ADB has been making is to shift the focus of support from “ex-post” response to “ex-ante” preparedness. These figures reflect such policy shifts.

ADB has responded to nearly every major disaster in the region. In so doing, it has accumulated considerable knowledge and experience. In anticipation of yet greater need for post-disaster assistance in future years, ADB and its donors agreed to pilot a new Disaster Response Facility during the tenth replenishment of the ADF in November 2011. This facility will provide more timely, predictable and effective support at a cost of 3% of ADF XI (around $370 million) over the period 2013–2016.

ADB is also increasing its efforts to support strengthened resilience. Two-thirds of ADB’s total investments in disaster risk reduction over the past 25 years have occurred in the past 8 years alone. In addition, ADB is integrating disaster risk management and climate change adaptation into its operational plans, country partnership strategies and development investments, thereby sensitizing its wider lending portfolio to disaster risk.

Key issues for the seminar

Despite enormous efforts by the international community, disasters and their escalating toll are a rising risk. Climate change poses an additional challenge.

For consideration, allow me to raise three issues:

  • First, how do we deal with compound disasters? Rapid urbanization and expanding technological hazards increase the risk of compound disasters and their associated amplified impacts. How do governments in the region prepare for these augmented risks?
  • Second, how do we finance short- and long-term needs in disaster risk management? We need an efficient mechanism for appropriate resource allocation to focus on priorities.
  • Third, how do we strengthen governance at national and regional levels? In particular, regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific is a critical element in dealing with catastrophic disasters that extend beyond national capacity and, increasingly, national borders.  

Conclusion

In concluding, I would like to extend a warm welcome to our distinguished panel members and participants. With their good guidance, I have every confidence that this session will produce productive and insightful discussions and be an important building block towards developing and implementing an integrated disaster risk management system in Asia and Pacific.

Thank you.