Assistant Secretary General Speech


June 29, 2022 - Washington, DC

• H.E. Ana Luisa Castro, Vice Minister of Multilateral Affairs and Cooperation of Panama;

• Ambassador Elizabeth Darius-Clarke, Chair of the Permanent Council and Permanent Representative of Saint Lucia to the OAS;

• Ambassador María del Carmen Roquebert León, Chair of the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI) and Permanent Representative of Panama to the OAS;

• Ambassador Anthony Phillips-Spencer, Chair of the Committee on Hemispheric Security and Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the OAS;

• H.E. Luis Almagro, OAS Secretary General;

• Permanent Representatives, Permanent Observers,

Ladies and Gentleman,

It is a pleasure to join you in this important joint session of the Permanent Council and the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI). Let me begin by thanking the Chairs of both Committees for convening this timely meeting which comes as a result of the Organization’s commitment to strengthening the role of the OAS in advancing disaster resilience in the hemisphere.

Building resilience in the face of climate change, natural disasters, and now pandemics has become increasingly critical for the countries of the Americas. To that end, I am delighted to participate in this encounter as together we seek to formulate an integrated approach to disaster resilience.

The role of the OAS in strengthening the capacity of the Inter-American System to respond to natural disasters and in advancing disaster resilience has always taken the approach of garnering an informed, structured, and consultative approach.

While this has been pivotal to the success achieved to date, we must redouble our commitment to strengthen coordinated multilateral action to respond to the needs of Member States.

Resolution AG/RES. 2979, adopted at the 51st OAS General Assembly in November 2021, is a call to do just that. This Resolution urges Member States “to promote disaster risk reduction, including prevention, mitigation and preparedness, to ensure rapid and effective response to and recovery from disasters, and to promote international cooperation to build resilience.”

The Resolution also calls for the full implementation of a Western Hemisphere database as soon as possible and invites Member States, Permanent Observers, and global and regional disaster management agencies to provide official data to be used in facilitating effective preparation, response, and recovery, and in so doing, advance resilience in any country that may be experiencing a disaster.

Through this important Resolution, the General Assembly clearly guides the work of the Organization in this field, placing a particular emphasis on multilateral cooperation to advance disaster resilience in the hemisphere.

The OAS General Secretariat has been at the vanguard of disaster risk management since the early 1980's when the Natural Hazard Project (NHP) was established within what today is the Department of Sustainable Development (DSD). Successive responsive actions have resulted in the focus on disasters being integrally included in development programs and projects of the General Secretariat, and support being offered to OAS Member States in addressing the root causes of disasters.

These actions are in line with principles enshrined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, which was adopted at the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March of 2015 in Sendai, Japan, and which recognizes that "there has to be a broader and more people-centered, preventive approach to disaster risk," that is "multi-sectoral based, inclusive and accessible."

As the hemisphere’s premiere political platform, the OAS is equipped with an arsenal of regional frameworks, instruments, and mechanisms. The OAS must nonetheless reposition itself to address the challenges associated with climate change and natural disasters. Internally we need to improve our coordination, but we can and must continue to use our unique convening power to work in partnership with other multilateral organizations. The updated membership of the Inter-American Committee on Natural Disaster Reduction (IACNDR) is key to the strengthening of our outreach.

The Fiftieth Regular Session of the OAS General Assembly, Member States adopted Resolution AG / RES. 2955 (L-O / 20), “Advancing Hemispheric Initiatives on Integral Development: Promoting Resilience,” which among other important mandates, amended the Statutes of the IACNDR to further advance the harmonization of bilateral and multilateral efforts and the facilitation of cooperation and coordination among all stakeholders was also very instrumental.

This resolution granted the Chair of the Committee the authority to invite international organizations, international cooperation agencies, international financial institutions, regional development banks and competent regional inter-governmental organizations to join the Committee in its meetings and activities.

Pursuant to this Resolution, and in my capacity as Chair of the IACNDR, last year I extended an invitation to 16 entities with a diverse scope of competences, ranging from international financial institutions to humanitarian and disaster response agencies to join the Committee on the basis that a broader membership would provide for more effective coordination with these strategic partners to prevent, mitigate and respond to natural disasters.

Given each new entity’s unique competencies, it would be of benefit to the Committee and the Member States to have targeted engagement with each new organization in order to leverage their specific roles and contributions. The General Secretariat has now embarked on a process of meeting with each of the new partners individually to discuss the work of the IACNDR and their potential role in the Committee. During a three-month period, a round of informative meetings was held at the technical level with the points of contacts of the new partner organizations that accepted the meeting request. The meetings proved fruitful in sensitizing the new partners about the multilateral approach undertaken by the OAS to strengthen disaster resilience and also provided an opportunity to learn more about the potential role and contributions of each organization.

Adopting a targeted approach based on the areas of competence of each entity will strengthen the Committee and enhance our integrated approach. As an example, the international financial institutions and regional development banks should be invited to join our meetings when the agenda will focus on the topic of Disaster Reconstruction and Recovery. Likewise, participation from international cooperation agencies and inter-governmental organizations could yield benefits when a meeting will focus on developing multifaceted approaches to issues related to Disaster Risk Management, Prevention and Mitigation.

There is no doubt that the OAS has played an important role in strengthening the Inter-American System’s capacity to respond to natural disasters and in advancing disaster resilience.
However, we are now at a pivotal point as our Member States, particularly those of the Caribbean, are now subject to both “rapid-onset” and “slow-onset” disasters. Our hemispheric efforts must therefore respond to these emerging challenges through a collective will to enhance coordination, allocate adequate funding to resilience building projects, and share best practices.

The OAS will continue to support efforts to advance disaster resilience in the hemisphere through its multiple conventions, instruments, and mechanisms. The tools are already at our disposal to foster more robust and coordinated hemispheric action and multilateral cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am convinced that the collective professional insight and expertise to be gained from today’s meeting will help guide our ongoing efforts towards strengthening the role of the OAS in multilateral cooperation on disaster risk-reduction, response, recovery, and reconstruction, in advancing disaster resilience in the hemisphere.

I look forward to the presentations and subsequent dialogue with Member States and hope that it will yield concrete and meaningful actions going forward.

Thank you