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At OAS, UN Presents Report on Disaster Risk Reduction

  June 28, 2011

The United Nations Assistant-Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, presented the 2011 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction yesterday at the Organization of American States (OAS), with an introduction by OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, to an audience comprised of experts on risk management, program officers, Permanent Representatives and Permanent Observers to the OAS.

At the opening of the event, held at OAS headquarters in Washington, DC, Secretary General Insulza welcomed the UN high-level representative and highlighted the importance of the event, saying that it "offers a unique opportunity to further raise the commitment of all to work together in reducing disasters in the Americas." He also pointed out the "strong and sound partnership" between the OAS General Secretariat and the Secretariat of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) in "supporting their Member State's Governments and, particularly, our most vulnerable communities in reducing their risk to disasters."

Secretary General Insulza mentioned some of the most relevant events and figures related to recent natural disasters in the Americas, including the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the various tornadoes and floods that have affected the United States, Colombia and Venezuela, as well as volcanic eruptions in Ecuador, Nicaragua and Chile in recent months. "The 2001-2010 decade was marked in the Americas by devastating disasters that amounted to over 260,000 deaths and US$440 billion in damages. More than 900 disasters were registered in our region in that decade, which witnessed almost 200 more disasters than the previous decade," he said.

Referring to the economic impact of disasters, the leader of the regional organization affirmed that "it is not surprising that in the Americas economic losses are up, as many countries in our region have experienced significant economic growth, resulting in more assets exposed and at risk, and as regional integration processes have increased the trans-boundary impacts of disasters." He added that the findings of the report will "serve to guide our decisions collectively. However, effective risk reduction policies and programs require data and information at all levels and investments in vulnerability and risk assessments, particularly at the local levels, where our most vulnerable communities reside."

In her presentation, Assistant-Secretary-General Wahlström pointed out that the Americas are positioned as the second region, after Asia-Pacific, in terms of risk accumulation and disasters. She also explained that one of the main findings of the report is that the "net flow of people and economic activities are happening to areas that are the most highly prone to disasters and more vulnerable to any disasters," and as a consequence the population is growing faster in the most economically active regions, but she also recognized that this finding indicates that something could be made to change that trend.

The UN Head of Disaster Risk Reduction also recognized the efforts that countries have made investing in disaster preparedness, early warning and education, and the positive impact it has had. She further highlighted that risk is increasing globally and that risk accumulation is growing faster than the Gross Domestic Product.

"This report reflects that governments have in their hands the instruments for more systemically dealing with risk reduction and prevention," she explained, and mentioned investment in disaster, risk management, retention, public investment planning, and social protection as some of those tools.

"We need to give more attention to the most vulnerable people, such as the poorest people in rich countries," she asserted, and explained the conditions of vulnerability that affect that part of the population and might lead to an increase in their poverty level. "Existing social protection mechanisms can be adapted to protect vulnerable people before, during and after crisis. Conditional transfers, temporary employment programs and micro insurance schemes are examples of such mechanisms, which can increase household resilience and buffer against the impact of disasters," the report explains.

Finally, Assistant-Secretary-General Wahlström stressed that an effective disaster risk management implies political authority, realistic decentralization and culture of partnership, and advocated for regional cooperation and practical collaboration on this matter, as well as public and private sector engagement to confront the challenges of disasters and risks.

To provide a regional perspective, experts from hemispheric organizations were invited to complement the presentation. Jean Luc Poncelet, Manager of the Area on Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), underscored the progress achieved in the region in terms of preparedness, disaster management, and data collection, "Indeed we have made great progress, and it is important to publicize the positive information and put more emphasis on the success stories," he said.

David Hatch, Representative in the United States of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), talked about the planning, evolution, definition and handle of risk management. He also explained the three variables that impact the awareness of risk management: first, "the greater communication that helps us know more quickly and more comprehensively what is happening around the world"; second "there is an increasing development in population growth that intensifies the probability and the potential loss associated with natural disasters"; and third, the fact that "we are more connected and much more interdependent than ever before.”

Finally, Stephen Bender, independent Consultant on Disaster Risk Management and Development, said that "risk is not only a development problem," and invited governments to "look at how we are going to use every development action and its relationship to natural hazards to help promote risk reduction and vulnerability.”

Prior to the presentation, Assistant-Secretary-General Wahlström and Secretary General Insulza met to discuss the findings of the report in terms of the Western hemisphere and the progress achieved in this area at the regional level.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-742/11