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Loren appeals to int’l community to focus on disaster risk reduction

May 29, 2009

Thimpu, Bhutan(May 29, 2009) – Senator Loren Legarda today urged the international community to respond to climate change by cooperating in reducing the risks of casualties and damage arising from climate change catastrophes.

Loren said that risks from natural disasters caused by climate change are among the greatest threats faced by the world, especially the developing countries.

“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 calls for urgent action,” Loren said in her opening address at Bhutan national Sensitizatuion Workshop on Disaster Risk Reduction.

“I am also made aware of the enormous challenge to the government and people of Bhutan to address the increasing risks of climate change, particularly the critical threat of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) and the vulnerability of many of your development sectors such as agriculture, hydropower and forestry which are all highly sensitive to changing climate,” added Loren.

Loren flew to this tiny kingdom upon the invitation of Lyonpo Minjur Dorji, who heads the Ministry on Home and Cultural Affairs, in her capacity as Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation for the Asia-Pacific bestowed her by the United Nations International Strategy For Disaster Risk Reduction Secretariat.

“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,” said Loren, who along with other delegations, was received by His Excellency Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley.

Also during the same conference graced by Mr. Namgay Wangchuk, Director of Bhutan’s Department of Disaster Management, and Dr. Jerry Velasquez, UNISDR Senior Coordinator, Loren took time to discuss with Bhutan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering Bhutan’s approach to international diplomacy and the possible areas of
international cooperation in disaster risk reduction.

The noted environmental advocate in a country visited by at least 20 typhoons each year stressed that disaster risks have become one of the greatest threats humanity faces today, and that reducing it is a matter of high importance to the world, especially to developing countries where disaster risks abound.

Loren said that in 2008 alone there were 321 disasters which killed about a quarter of million people, affected more than 200 million lives, and resulted into a stunning $180 billion worth of economic losses. The Asia and Pacific regions bore much of the brunt, accounting for more than 80 % of the global loss of life, Loren said.

Bhutan is a country nestled in the Eastern Himalayas with barely 47,000 square-kilometers of land, of which only three percent is arable and devoted to rice, corn, root crops, citrus and food grains.

The country is also endowed with an estimated 2,674 glacial lakes, 562 of which are associated with glaciers. But very recently, 24 of its lakes are identified to be potentially prone to Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF).

“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,” said Loren, who personally witnessed three days of unabated rains early in the week in Thimpu, which is Bhutan’s largest city.

“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,” she said, adding that “there is no more opportune time to make a difference, individually or collectively, for the wonderful country and people of Bhutan, than now.”

At the same time, Loren asked the delegates not forget what she called “the spirit of Hyogo Framework for Action” in which countries vulnerable to natural hazards and calamities are urged to adopt an innovative, integrated, holistic, and proactive approach of reducing vulnerabilities and of building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters.