Speech by ADB Vice PresidentXiaoyu Zhao,  at the High Level Meeting on Disaster Risk Reduction: Helping Developing Asia Reduce Disaster Risk on April 15, 2011 in Washington DC, USA


I feel privileged to represent the Asian Development Bank (ADB) here at this important Meeting on Disaster Risk Reduction, and to have the opportunity to present ADB's involvement in integrating disaster reduction into rehabilitation and reconstruction activities.

This event could not be more timely, given the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan last month, and the country's continuing struggle in its aftermath. Let me therefore begin by expressing, on behalf of all of us at ADB, our deepest sympathies to the Government and people of Japan, and in particular those most directly affected by the disaster. We also wish to express our best wishes and encouragement to the people of Christchurch, New Zealand, as they set about rebuilding their lives and their city following the devastating earthquake in February this year.

There are several lessons we can all learn from these tragedies. Let me mention four. The first is that disasters do not "go by the book" – we must expect the unexpected, and we must make sure our contingency plans are flexible and comprehensive. A second is that investments in disaster preparedness pay off – early warning systems, evacuation planning and rehearsals are life-savers. A third is that investments in disaster risk reduction in risk-sensitive areas are an essential component of land-use planning and management. And a fourth lesson is that mutual aid plays a critical role by linking community needs with surrounding community resources. Both the Japanese and New Zealand disasters remind us that addressing the compound effects of disasters is still a significant challenge even in countries that are at the top of the disaster risk reduction 'league'.

For those of us who live in Asia and the Pacific, recent disasters, and the countless others that have occurred in the region, are shocking reminders of how vital disaster risk management is – not only for government systems at all levels, but also for civil society, private enterprises, and – most important of all – for each and every citizen.

Natural disasters have a particularly severe impact on the most vulnerable people in developing countries, and on development initiatives. On average, Asian countries suffer approximately 158 separate disaster events a year, affecting more than 200 million people, and causing over $40 billion dollars in damages. The economic costs of disasters in these countries are typically twenty times those of developed countries. Less than 5% of disaster losses in developing Asia are insured, compared to 40% in developed countries. Since developing countries rarely have the capacity to absorb the remaining 95%, these uninsured costs are passed on to the international financial community. While these figures are averages, the latest figures from Swiss Re indicates that in 2010 Asia suffered economic losses of $75 billion, which is about one-third the total economic losses of $218 billion from disasters worldwide.

Disasters significantly disrupt the development plans of affected countries, driving back hard-earned development gains. Obviously, the impact of natural disasters is greater in countries with inadequate prevention, preparedness, risk reduction, and response capacities. These governments, along with development partners like ADB, thus face diverting development funds to replace lost social and economic infrastructure.

Two clear messages have emerged from the continuing impact of disasters in Asia and the Pacific. The first is that no-one, and certainly no government, can afford to be complacent. It is a fundamental role of government to protect its citizens. This means that government has to put into place the policies, procedures and practices needed to identify and manage societal risks, including the risk of natural disasters. The second message is that even though many of us are currently preoccupied about the consequences of climate variability, we must not forget to place our disaster programs within an "all-hazards" framework, because destructive geophysical forces continue to shape our physical and social world.

In 1987, ADB became the first multinational development bank to have a dedicated disaster policy. Our Disaster and Emergency Assistance policy is based on the premise that "hazards need not lead to disasters". The policy promotes an Integrated Disaster Risk Management approach that combines disaster risk reduction, elements of climate change adaptation, and disaster risk financing to support member countries in developing their disaster risk management capacities.

For more than two decades, ADB has been engaged in at least one environmental, health, natural hazard, or conflict emergency project every month – spending almost $10 billion in disaster-related assistance. Just over 40% of this has been on disaster risk reduction activities.

To provide timely assistance to developing member countries affected by natural disasters, ADB also established an Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund. This special-purpose Fund, approved in April 2009, is designed to provide immediate grant support to a developing member country to help meet immediate financial requirements of responding to a major disaster. It is not a relief fund, but rather provides budget support to assist governments finance its own responses. This approach recognizes that few countries have sufficient cash resources at hand to finance the immediate costs, and that it also takes time for international assistance to be organized and to reach affected persons.

This Fund is ADB's most recent commitment to assist Member Countries deal with the hazards that impinge on sustainable development. All of us here today are aware that the frequency, intensity, diversity and consequences of disasters in Asia are extremely complex. It is very difficult for the affected countries to adequately meet the extraordinary demands that disaster impact places on its citizens, communities and governments without outside expertise and support. Let me touch briefly upon ADB's experience in post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Following the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami in December 2004, ADB established an Asian Tsunami Fund and provided financial assistance amounting to $573 million to five affected Member Countries (India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Thailand). Including commitments from this Fund, ADB has approved $892 million in direct tsunami-related assistance, 81% of which was in grants.

More recently, ADB extended $2 billion assistance to Pakistan to help with the rehabilitation and reconstruction work resulting from the 2010 floods that affected 20 million people and shattered the country's physical infrastructure, including roads, bridges, power lines, housing, schools, medical facilities, irrigation installations and farm structures. ADB has taken the lead in transport and communication, energy, health, water and sanitation, irrigation, social protection and public administration services. In addition to assisting in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of infrastructure, we are providing technical assistance to strengthen the country's infrastructure planning and to prepare an integrated and environmentally sustainable disaster recovery action plan.

When Nepal was hit with devastating floods in 2008, ADB responded by initiating a $25.6 million emergency flood damage rehabilitation project. The project is helping to restore economic activities in the affected districts, improving the livelihoods of about 300,000 people, and contributing to sustainable economic growth by minimizing future risk from similar flood disasters. We have also introduced a risk screening tool into our Nepal operations, and are gaining valuable insights which we hope can be transferred to projects in other member countries.

ADB's new Country Partnership Strategy for Nepal for the period 2010-2012 has a specific sub-theme of climate change and disaster risk management (CCDM). With the aid of this sub-theme, ADB has introduced a risk screening tool into its Nepal operations to ensure that new investments factor in disaster risks and maximize risk reduction measures; and assist the government to strengthen the capacity of relevant agencies in managing disaster risk.

The biggest achievement in applying the pilot CCDM checklist has been the increased understanding within project processing teams of the implications of climate change and disaster hazards for the particular project being designed. The checklist has helped quickly identify risks, assess the potential impacts of natural hazards and climate change of the projects under processing, and determine whether or not risk management measures must be considered. ADB is gaining valuable insights with the initiation of the risk screening tools in Nepal which we hope can be transferred to projects in other member countries.

ADB has also been engaging in disaster risk management policy dialogue with the Government of Nepal through existing programs in areas such as education and health. In the case of the education sector, we are planning an allocation of $5 million for disaster risk management activities this year.

Ladies and gentlemen, ADB is committed to assisting its developing member countries pursue their national disaster action plans. We are also committed to global initiatives such as the Hyogo Framework of Action. Having learned much from our work on recent major disasters, we are keen to contribute to a coordinated program of action for hazard management and disaster risk reduction for the region.

Stronger partnerships among donor agencies, Member Countries, research institutes, and local communities – within the context of the international agreements – are critical for meeting this challenge. We look forward to working with our partners in Government and in the international community to build a stronger, safer, more resilient Asia and Pacific.

Thank you.