South-East Asian Nations Call for Greater Investment in Disaster Risk Reduction to Protect Economic Growth

The 2011 floods that caused unprecedented devastation across South-East Asia have highlighted the need for stepped up investment in disaster risk reduction to protect social and economic assets, top government officials from the subregion agreed at a United Nations forum here today. Representatives of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Philippines, Timor-Leste, Thailand and Viet Nam met at the one-day South-East Asia Flood Risk Reduction Forum organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in cooperation with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the International Centre for Water Hazard and Risk Management (ICHARM), to discuss the lessons from the 2011 flooding in South-East Asia and ways to make their nations more resilient to future flood risks. Opening the meeting, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, the Executive Secretary of ESCAP and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, called for faster implementation of regional and national disaster risk reduction frameworks. She highlighted the relationship between disasters and development, saying: “Hazards become disasters in the absence of development and with inadequate investment in risk reduction. This knowledge-sharing meeting presents us with the opportunity to address gaps in regional and national disaster preparedness, management and response.” In his remarks to the Forum, Mr Kittirat Na-Ranong, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of Thailand, also reiterated the importance of investing appropriately in disaster risk reduction and emphasised Thailand's full commitment to prevent flooding in the upcoming monsoon season.

Making the link between disaster risk reduction and regional performance on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Dr. Heyzer added: “Our newly launched Asia Pacific Report on the MDGs is very clear – countries with the biggest economic and social disparities are those most likely to be off-track to meet their development targets. The impacts of disasters are worst on the least developed communities, but disasters themselves make development more difficult.” The key message emerging from Forum presentations and discussions was that the 2011 South-East Asia floods were a “wake-up call to policymakers, governments, private sector and civil society that there is a gap between rapid economic growth and investment in disaster risk reduction”. More investment is needed to fill this gap in order to protect social and economic assets from floods and other disasters in the region, in particular for those areas with rapid economic growth. The solutions must be built on sound scientific and technical knowledge. A balanced approach consisting of structural and non-structural measures could constitute short, medium and long-term interventions. These measures must be implemented at the regional, national and local levels and require strong leadership for their success.

As the causes and impacts of floods extend beyond national boundaries, international cooperation is also an important factor. Regional collaboration, facilitated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations would ensure that a common set of achievable and deliverable regional goals to reduce risk and promote inclusive and sustainable development are put in place and actions to achieve these goals are implemented. The 2011 South-East Asia Floods affected millions of people with more than one thousand lives lost and damages estimated in billions of US dollars. Torrential rains and floods of historical scale spread throughout parts of Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, while Typhoon Washi inflicted a heavy toll on the Philippines, over-all affecting almost 20 million people in the subregion. The Forum will be followed by a two-day “Workshop on Flood Risk Reduction through Space Applications in South-East Asia” which will provide technical training on the use of space applications during floods, including Geographic Information Sytem (GIS)-based disaster information, the Global Satellite Mapping of Precipitation, the Integrated Flood Analysis System and Flood Forecasting Model.