Keynote Address of Senator Loren Legarda: Redefining Development

May 29, 2009

Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and
Climate Change Adaptation for the Asia-Pacific
National Sensitization Workshop on Disaster Risk Reduction
Thimphu, Bhutan, 29th May 2009

“Redefining Development”

Thank you.

His Excellency Lyonpo Minjur Dorji,
The Director of the Department of Disaster Management
Dr. Jerry Velasquez, UNISDR Senior Regional Coordinator

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I feel honored and privileged to have been invited to visit your beautiful country, the Kingdom of Bhutan, and to speak before you today in my capacity as Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation for the AsiaPacific – an honorary appointment given to me by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction Secretariat for an advocacy mission on reducing disaster and climate change risks.

First of all, I wish to convey my grateful appreciation to His Excellency Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley for kindly receiving yesterday the mission delegation and for sharing his valuable time and inspiring thoughts on disaster risk reduction and sustainable development efforts in Bhutan.

And, also to His Excellency Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering, Minister of Foreign Affairs for discussing with us Bhutan’s approach to international diplomacy and the possible areas of international cooperation in disaster risk reduction.

Most of all, I am particularly grateful to His Excellency Lyonpo Minjur Dorji, Minister of Home Affairs, who personally invited me to come to Bhutan when we first met in Kuala Lumpur in December last year at the Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Through him I am getting to know Bhutan – as a people, culture, and country — more deeply. His shared wisdom on happiness, generosity, and social development, among others, I shall always remember.

My visit to Bhutan is a personal longing come true. I have read and heard much about your country and people and have been fascinated by your rich culture and your unique development philosophy of Gross National Happiness. And now, I stand before the very people I admire, with a deeper purpose and meaning, as I hold my very first official advocacy mission as a regional champion in the world’s youngest democracy.

I was told that I have come at the most proper time — when recent floods and landslides in the country have drawn the attention and action of the Government and have tested the capabilities of the one-year old Department of Disaster Management, as they revealed the vulnerability of the communities. Indeed, the impact of the three days of unabated rains early this week is disaster risk made more manifest. It is this detrimental impact on people’s lives and livelihood, on the environment, and on infrastructure that we strive to lessen or to avoid in our effort to advance disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

Climate change and disaster risks are the defining issue of our time. Their increasing trend driven by economic growth brings to fore a human development issue and a human security concern that call for urgent action.

It is in this context that I wish to listen to you and to know more about Gross National Happiness and how this development philosophy and approach could influence development policies and strategies of countries, including those of the Philippines.

I therefore come to convey an important message – a message that calls for unity in action in reducing disaster risks, a message that hopes for a more secure and sustainable future and a safer environment for all to live in.

My first message is this: Climate change and disaster risks have become one of the greatest challenges to human development the world faces today.

Reducing disaster risks has become a matter of high importance to the world now, especially to developing countries where disaster risks abound, and to the poor and the marginalized who are most affected by disasters.

The recent floods and the tragedy they caused to a number of families here in Bhutan highlight this message. And it is this kind of disaster risk, prevailing and affecting various communities in a country every now and then, which erodes effectively the hard-earned development gains of a country and makes the goals for sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development more elusive.

My country, the Philippines, also suffers from the recurring impact of typhoons which visit the archipelago’s territory about 20 times each passing year. Also, its location right within the Pacific Ring of Fire where most of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruption occur constantly exposes the country to the impact of these natural hazards. As a country and people at risk, we need to rethink our approach to pursuing and protecting our development from the regressive impacts of disasters.

Beyond our respective countries, the world as whole must act immediately to seize and reduce disaster risks. For the global picture has been grim. The world in the year 2008 alone saw 321 disasters which killed about a quarter of a million people and affected more than 200 million lives. The total economic cost was a stunning 180 billion US dollars, which is twice the average annual economic losses of the past seven years. And the region of the Asia and the Pacific has borne much of the brunt, accounting for more than 80 percent of the global loss of life.

About 70 to 80 per cent of disasters have been climate-related. And yet, given the gloomy scenario of climate change, more disasters are expected to happen.

The recently released Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, the findings of which Dr. Jerry Velasquez will elaborate on, reveals it all:

Disaster risk is on the rise. The growing population in areas prone to natural hazards has exposed billions of people to risks.

Moreover, our development approaches and practices in the past decades have allowed disaster risks to grow, to spread, and to pervade until today. And the impacts of disasters have become both a cause and a consequence of poverty in developing countries.

Overall, the persistence of poverty and gender inequality, the decline of our ecosystems, the rapid urbanization and unabated migration to cities, and climate change, have all conspired to create enormous risks in our communities.

This we cannot allow to continue.

It is therefore high time for global awareness to soar — on the necessity and viability of disaster risk reduction. There is no more compelling time to act decisively and collectively to reduce these risks than in the present.

My second message is this: The challenges are clear. Together, we can do something to arrest the growing problem of disaster risk. We know what needs to be done and the solutions are within our reach.

The world needs to revisit and rethink conventional frameworks and strategies for socioeconomic development. We could examine our respective development approaches and ask these questions: How can we further develop our societies without compromising the welfare of generations to come? How can we advance our socio-economic standards without putting the poor at greater risk? How can we realize our shared goals on poverty reduction and sustainable development for the millennium with greater certainty of success? Our answers to these questions will redefine for us the meaning of development.

The world also needs to adopt an innovative, out-of-the box approach, to tackle effectively this most complex human development problem of the 21 st century. We need a more integrated, holistic, and proactive approach of reducing vulnerabilities and of building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters; an approach that builds on partnerships, collaboration and cooperation of all stakeholders. This is the spirit of the Hyogo Framework for Action. Yet, we need to ensure that political commitments to the HFA translate into concrete actions and measureable gains.

The world needs to change its way of thinking and doing – to address effectively today’s complex problems of disaster risk, poverty, ecosystems decline and climate change toward achieving set goals for human development.

We need to invest today for a safer tomorrow. The investment most needed now is more political rather than financial, for there remains a wide gap between international commitments and local good practices.

Governments need to ensure the formulation and implementation of good environmental laws, to create the necessary enabling mechanisms to translate sustainable development strategies into practical and measurable gains, and to achieve desired development goals with greater certainty of success.

We need to make disaster risk reduction a primary strategy for sustainable and equitable socio-economic development. We need to promote the linkages and synergy between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. For reducing disaster risk reduces as well poverty, safeguards development, and helps us adapt to climate change with benefits for global security, stability and sustainability.

I believe Bhutan is in a position to present itself as a model to the world. You have striven to redefine development with the concept and practice of Gross National Happiness. This development philosophy and the best practices that you have exemplified with it are an alternative solution that should be shared and made known to the world. This is one of our best hopes for a sustainable future. The world should heed the message of GNH and recognize the compelling need for cautious development —
development that does not spawn risks, development that protects and conserves the country’s natural resources, development that promotes culture and cultural resilience, and development that highlights the benefits of good governance.

However, I am also made aware of the enormous challenge to the Government and people of Bhutan to address the increasing risks posed by climate change, particularly the critical threat of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods, and the vulnerability of many of your development sectors such as agriculture, hydropower and forestry which are all highly sensitive to a changing climate.

I believe you have all the reason to champion my advocacy and make disaster risk reduction an integral part of the development processes akin to Gross National Happiness.

As I close, I wish to thank the Government and people of Bhutan for this extraordinary opportunity to address you today.

Through the active participation of all gathered here in this conference, the opportunity to transform the issue of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation into more practical and measurable gains for Bhutan is present and real.

And there is no more opportune time to make a difference, individually or collectively, for the wonderful country and people of Bhutan, as well as to the world, than now.

Thank you and Mabuhay.