UNDP > Speeches & Statements > in Belarus
Address by Ms. Cihan Sultanoglu, UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative in Belarus, at the round table devoted to the International Day of Disaster Reduction, 28 November 2004
Dear guests, ladies and gentlemen!
Thank you very much for the invitation to participate in this important round table devoted to the theme of disaster reduction as well as presentation of the World Disasters Report 2004 of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. I am also glad to meet and welcome a newly appointed Head of the IFRC Minsk Delegation Mr. Warwick Inder whom we hope to see as a frequent participant of the UN donor coordination meetings.
Since its first coordinated humanitarian operations in Europe following the devastation and massive displacement of people in the Second World War, the United Nations has been relied upon by the international community to respond to natural and man-made disasters that are beyond the capacity of national authorities alone. Today, the Organization is a major provider of emergency relief and long-term assistance, a catalyst for action by governments and relief agencies, and an advocate on behalf of people struck by emergencies.
Natural disasters, mostly weather-related, killed roughly 50,000 people and caused economic losses exceeding $60 billion in 2003. UNDP reports that 94 per cents of natural disasters are caused by cyclones, floods, earthquakes and drought. Heat waves and forest fires have also taken a toll in human suffering. And according to a report issued by UNDP in February 2004, an overwhelming 98.2 per cent of those killed as a result of natural disasters live in developing countries - a striking indicator of how poverty, population pressures and environmental degradation exacerbate suffering and destruction.
Confronted with renewed conflict and the escalating human and financial costs of natural disasters, the United Nations has been engaged on two fronts. On one hand, it has sought to bring immediate relief to the victims, primarily through its operational agencies; on the other hand, it sought more effective strategies to prevent emergencies from arising in the first place.
When disaster strikes, the United Nations and its agencies rush to deliver humanitarian assistance. In 2002 alone, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) launched 24 inter-agency appeals that raised more than $4.2 billion to assist 35 million people in 18 countries and regions.
Disaster prevention seeks to reduce the vulnerability of societies to disaster and to address their man-made causes. Early warning is especially important for short-term prevention, and United Nations agencies are increasing their capacity in this area.
In 1991, the General Assembly established an inter-agency standing committee to coordinate the international response to humanitarian crises. The United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator is the Organization's focal point for this endeavor, acting as the system principal policy advisor, coordinator and advocate on humanitarian emergencies. Through the UNOCHA he coordinates United Nations assistance in humanitarian crises that go beyond the capacity and mandate of any single agency.
When an emergency strikes, OCHA coordinates the international response. It consults with the relevant United Nations country team and undertakes inter-agency consultations at Headquarters to reach agreement on the priorities for action. OCHA then provides support for the coordination of activities in the affected country.
Four UN entities - UNICEF, UNDP, WFP and UNHCR have primary roles in providing protection and assistance in humanitarian crisis. In acute emergencies, the UNICEF works alongside other relief agencies to help re-establish basic services such as water and sanitation, set up schools and provide medicines and other supplies. The UNDP is the agency responsible for coordinating activities for natural disaster mitigation, prevention and preparedness. UNDP resident coordinators oversee relief and rehabilitation efforts and the national level. The World Food Programme provides fast, efficient relief to millions of people who are victims of natural and man-made disasters. Although mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is to protect and assist refugees, it has been called upon more and more to come to the aid of wider range of people living in refugee-like situations.
Back in 1994 in the Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action for a Safer World it was stated that "awareness of the potential benefits of disaster reduction is still limited to specialized circles and has not yet been successfully communicated to all sectors of society, in particular policy makers and the general public…due to a lack of attention for the issue, insufficient commitment and resources for promotional activities at all levels".
The importance of learning lessons and knowledge management was reiterated ten years after by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his message devoted to the International Day for Disaster Reduction this year. Let me cite: "The theme of the Day, “Learning from today’s disasters for tomorrow’s hazards”, reminds us that the task of learning from disasters concerns every one of us. Young people should also be encouraged to learn these lessons -– in school, at university, and through community networks. By participating in educational activities, engaging in community-risk mapping exercises, and sharing good practices, young people can learn lifelong lessons, and help make their communities more disaster-resilient.
Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, volcanic eruptions and other natural disasters are an inevitable part of life. Our degree of vulnerability to them need not be. And all involved must also be sure to learn from what happened, and act to prepare communities to be more resilient and reduce the risks for the future."
Inclusion of disaster reduction in educational programmes at all levels, effective awareness and information campaigns, media involvement in advocacy and information dissemination, community training programmes and access to technical specialists are key ingredients to support the knowledge base for effective disaster risk reduction.
When old menaces seem to multiply, new thinking must provide the solutions. Communities must adopt the notion that disaster impacts can be reduced and therefore not wait for disasters to be managed.
In this area of knowledge management cooperation of various Belarusian ministries, such as Ministry of Emergencies and Ministry of Education, Belarusian Red Cross, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the UN agencies could be useful and of great importance.
|United Nations Office in Belarus |
17 Kirov Str., Minsk 220050 Tel. +375 (17) 327 48 76
Fax +375 (17) 226 03 40; e-mail