It cannot be stressed enough that we only have five years left to halve poverty, eliminate illiteracy, improve health and fully realize the other Millennium Development Goals.
Across the globe, the situation is immensely challenging. The Global Monitoring Report 2010: the MDGs after the Crisis, revealed that between 2009 and 2015, 1.2 million more children under five and 262,000 more infants will die. In 2015, an estimated 350,000 more students might not complete their primary education. Moreover, 100 million less people may not have access to safe drinking water.
The picture may even worsen if governments do not take urgent and decisive action to reduce disaster risks. For a single extreme weather event – be it a supertyphoon, surging flood or prolonged drought – can undo years of development efforts.
It is disturbing to discover that in the last 30 years, the number of disaster events have increased 3 times in the Philippines. Although the reported number of deaths has slightly decreased over the same number of the population affected by disasters, the economic losses from these events have drastically increased by more than seventeen-fold.
These figures show us clearly that disasters have a huge impact in our country’s economic growth. In fact, disasters are added misfortunes to the poor who already experience injustices caused by the gross inequality of income among social classes. In order to have a perfect view of what the country is losing or gaining, it would be best to know how different events, including the onslaught of disasters, affect the lives of our people.
The government can use the example of the Kingdom of Bhutan, which uses a “Gross National Happiness” index in measuring their country’s development. Along with the gross domestic product and other traditional economic yardsticks that measure mere physical outputs, they take into account other factors that affect the well-being of their people, such as good governance, equitable socio-economic growth, environmental protection and cultural preservation.
Climate change poses a great challenge to achieving sustainable development. But if we include similar GNH variables in the government’s development indicators, which I would gladly work on with our economic managers, then maybe, our policies that seek to protect the environment and ensure that we have adequate resources for the future will be strongly enforced. I believe that new indices that factor in environmental protection and investments in disaster risk reduction would more accurately reflect development, particularly of the vast majority of our people who can no longer accept the growing gap between statistics that show continuing progress in growth and the increasing hardships they experience in their daily lives. By pursuing this initiative, perhaps we can also set an example for our neighbor countries in the region.
We have to realize that we are not alone in this plight. Asia Pacific is struck by more disasters as compared to its other regional neighbors.A United Nations Report presented at the Fourth Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in South Korea last October presented a definitive lay of the land – “People in the Asia-Pacific region are four times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than those in Africa; and 25 times more likely than those in Europe or North America.” Moreover, it is alarming to note that from 2000-2008, the region’s share in global disaster deaths increased to as much as eighty-three percent (83%).
For a region that has 690 million of its population surviving on a $1 a day, these impacts are daunting.
Disaster risks, by all indications, are increasing exponentially not just for our country but for our Asian neighbors as well. All of our gallant and hard-earned development gains are constantly being defeated by the fusion of socio-economic realities and extreme climatic events. To this, I pose the question: what are we doing to stop the vicious cycle of devastation from disasters, from having to rehabilitate and start from scratch – with our efforts only to be destroyed by more intense, more devastating disasters that will strike our country and the region in the future?
Given the global scale of disasters, how it affects not only countries, regions and continents regardless of territorial boundaries, nationsneed to work together to review global and regional progress as well as challenges in disaster risk reduction. This stock-taking is key as we need to view our challenges from a broad perspective and draw from this knowledge in making coherent and concerted action.
As I speak, leaders from all over Asia, particularly from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal and Thailand, are en route to Manila for a Consultative Meeting for Asian Parliamentarians on Disaster Risk Reduction, which will be held from November 25 to 27. This is a prelude to the Asia Leader’s Summit in Manila next year which I will again jointly organize with the United Nations.
This meeting aims to make disaster risk reduction a regional, national and community priority in order to increase disaster resilience and protect our precious development gains. By this meeting, we also hope to integrate our disaster risk reduction work with efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Our experiences have shown that people who are constantly exposed to disaster risks are more likely to remain poor and more vulnerable to disasters, thereby keeping them under the perpetual bondage of poverty.
But the increased regional attention and interest over climate change and disaster impacts cannot be limited to mere understanding of the issues. Our sense of urgency needs to be translated into concrete actions. We need to discuss the ways forward for creating a more enabling environment for:
1. Making disaster risk reduction a tool for achieving sustainable poverty reduction
2. Making schools and hospitals safer from disasters
3. Making disaster risk reduction gender sensitive
4. Increasing national and local investment (both human and finance) in disaster risk reduction
Incidentally, the onset of this regional conference coincides with the culmination of the national observance of “Global Warming and Climate Change Consciousness Week”, which is being led by the Philippine Climate Change Commission.
The upcoming Consultative Meeting will leverage on the role and duty of legislators to make change happen. Parliamentarians are political leaders mandated by the people to convey local concerns to national governments, oversee national progress and investments, and campaign on issues affecting the daily lives and livelihoods of their constituents. When we legislate for disaster-resilient development and promote disaster risk reduction in our constituencies, the entire country triumphs.
The Congress of the Philippines has evidently been at the forefront of mainstreaming disaster risk reduction through the passage of theClimate Change Act of 2009 and the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 and the ratification of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response.
Clearly, we recognize that sustainable development work requires lasting solutions to poverty and inequity – that we should not train our sights merely on enhancing our capacities to re-build after each and every disaster; but rather on reducing risks for our people and building lasting communities, so that when disasters strike, we are prepared.
I will not raise false expectations and say that this consultative meeting to be held this weekend will save our country from the perils of disasters and climate change. I can, however, say that after this conference, the Philippines will attain invaluable knowledge from its neighboring countries and will build a strong working relationship with each other for the well-being of our countries, and Asia as a whole.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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Privilege Speech: CONSULTATIVE MEETING FOR ASIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS Disaster Risk Reduction: An Instrument for Achieving the MDGs