Acceptance Speech of Senator Loren Legarda: “Now is the time”

December 28, 2008

Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and
Climate Change Adaptation for the Asia-Pacific
Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction
2-4 December 2008, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

“Now is the time”

Thank you so much.

To Salvano Briceno, Director of UNISDR, who I had the pleasure to work with during the two global meetings in Manila last October, and to the capable and diligent staff of the secretariat, who for more than a year now have helped me advance my advocacy to even higher levels, I express my deepest thanks.

It is with profound gratitude and great humility that I accept this appointment as Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation for the Asia-Pacific. I am truly honored. I deeply appreciate this appointment.

This appointment inspires me to work harder and to do more — to advocate on a regional level the issues close to my heart and of deep concern for my country, the Philippines, one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world.

Climate change is the defining issue of our time.

In the Philippines, the trend of rising temperature, rainfall variability and sea level, associated with climate change, has been observed and has matched global trends. One poverty assessment showed that the El Nino occurrence in the country had raised poverty level to 28 per cent. Another study noted the dramatic rise in economic losses and damages caused by disasters in recent years, which were suffered most heavily by the rural areas where poverty is most prevalent.

The scenario in our region — the Asia and the Pacific — is grim. We will suffer stronger storms, more heavy rains, more flashfloods, and more devastating droughts. Water will become scarce. Food supply will be disrupted. Families and livelihoods will be displaced. Incidence of vector-borne diseases will increase.

Our nations, our people, our poorest of the poor, are most vulnerable to disasters in the world. According to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, 90% of disaster events, 70% of the casualties, and 65% of the economic losses have been climate and water-related.

There is no more fitting time to say that reducing disaster risks is a moral imperative, a social responsibility, than these times of growing vulnerabilities and persistent poverty — these times when pain and suffering caused by disasters overwhelm the lives of the weakest and the poorest — these times when having less in life is to lose life.

There is no more urgent time to act — for the survival and future of our people — than now.

Now is the time — to use our disaster risk reduction tools that are available, ready and tested. Adapting to climate change begins with reducing disaster risks, nothing is more basic.

Now is the time — to translate political commitments into more concrete actions and measureable gains at national and local government levels, for we are still far from achieving the goals of the Hyogo Framework for Action. And, there is no more opportune time to show political will, good governance, and exemplary leadership than these trying times.

Now is the time — to change old mindsets and reform ineffective policies so we can disaster-proof our development efforts and mainstream disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation more efficiently and more effectively into sustainable development agenda and strategies at all levels.

Now is the time — to invest more in prevention and adaptation in order to save not only human lives but also livelihoods and prospects for development. Adaptation through disaster risk reduction is proven to be cost-effective and to bring immediate benefits to our people.

It is important that disaster risk reduction is made an essential element of all funding allocations.

Now is the time — to make known to each and every country of our region the many good practices on reducing disaster risks and to share lessons and solutions that work in our regional and local contexts.

Now is the time — to unite on these issues, transcending territorial boundaries, political persuasions, and institutional affiliations. Disaster risk reduction for climate change adaptation is undeniably everybody’s business.

Now is the time.

And today, in this ministerial meeting, as great minds and persons of power meet, as we confront the many pressing issues at hand, we can express and show altogether our strong resolve in taking the bold step forward — to accelerate the implementation of the HFA and to raise awareness in all sectors and at all levels.

I have taken the bold step to advocate for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation at higher levels, particularly among world parliamentarians. The challenge at the legislative front is clear: We need to legislate for a greater emphasis on disaster risk reduction at national levels; we need to strike meaningful agreements at the regional level.

Last October, Salvano Briceno and I convened in Manila the consultative meeting for parliamentarians on linking disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, where I had also the pleasure of meeting dedicated parliamentarians from Cambodia and China. The outcome of that meeting — a statement of consensus called the Manila Call for Action — urges parliamentarians to work towards making the HFA legally binding as well as establishing regional hubs of parliamentarians to advance disaster risk reduction policy agenda.

It is heartening to know of the encouraging response of world parliamentarians to the call.

In a few weeks since the Manila meeting, more parliamentarians from different regions have hailed the Manila Call for Action and have offered to champion the cause and to support the work of UNISDR. I was informed that the Manila Call for Action will be discussed at the next meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Sustainable Development Committee in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in April 2009.

The World Bank Parliamentary Network that met in Paris about a week ago built on the foundation laid by the Manila Call for Action which I had the privilege to present. There I met with fellow parliamentarians from Asia and was encouraged by the lawmaker from Japan and the vice chair of the budget committee of the Indonesian Parliament who called for increased investment in disaster risk reduction.

Next week, I shall advocate the issue in Hanoi as I speak at the 9 th General Assembly of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development which will address climate change and food security.

It is indeed high time for unity on the issue — to develop common approaches among Asian legislators and political leaders for disaster risk reduction and adaptation.

While the scenario for our future is grim, the road ahead is not entirely dim. With courage of spirit and strength of will, with the force of our unity, and with the guide of HFA, we can certainly make a difference today and tomorrow.

I earnestly hope that the Ministers gathered here today will heed our call and take concrete action to protect future generations from the dreadful consequences of increasing disaster risks and a changing global climate.

Thank you and Mabuhay.