Helen Clark: Speech On the Working session on Reducing Disaster Risk to Alleviate Poverty at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction

15 Mar 2015

The relationship between poverty and disaster risk is clear: poverty creates and exacerbates the vulnerabilities which turn hazards into disasters. In turn, the impact of disasters exacerbates poverty. Most disasters occur in poor countries and the people who suffer the most are usually the poorest.

There are many reasons for this differential impact. Poor people live in less well constructed houses than those who are better off. That makes their homes more susceptible to destruction by wind, flood, or earthquake than stronger, more expensive housing is.

As well, poor people are more likely to live on land which is marginal and subject to flooding or drought. They generally have few or no savings to draw on in the aftermath of a disaster, and are unlikely to have been able to afford insurance.

The poorest people have fewer options for escape when disaster is forecast – such options cost money which they don’t have. They have less schooling than richer people and, thus, enjoy fewer employment options after a disaster has undermined or destroyed their livelihood. They may also suffer from ill health and/or malnutrition which compounds their vulnerability.

In Nepal, for example, research on the impact of flooding shows that the homes of the poor are five times more likely to be washed away than those of their richer neighbours. That is so because poor people are not only living in poorer quality housing, but also that housing is more likely to be in areas like steep slopes or riverbanks which are more likely to be affected by disasters.

If we compare the impact of disasters on wealthy countries with that on less developed ones, the disparity holds. While Hurricane Sandy in the USA killed 43 people, Cyclone Nargis killed as many as 138,000. The sizes of those storms were comparable, but they struck countries at very different levels of development.

The impact of many natural disasters on developing countries has been shown to be devastating, and in most cases it takes countries and communities years to recover. The 2010 Haiti Earthquake is estimated to have set back progress on poverty reduction by more than a decade. A lack of coping mechanisms like family assets, savings, or social safety nets not only leaves the poor poorer after disaster strike, but also sees more people falling into poverty in the wake of a disaster.

The impact of disasters goes beyond individual tragedies and hardship to debilitating effects on countries as a whole. The 2002 drought in India, for example, affected more than half the country, cost more than a million days of employment, and shrank India’s agricultural GDP by 3.1 percent. Hurricane Mitch which hit Central America and the Caribbean in 1998 is estimated to have set back development by as much as twenty years in the developing countries most affected.

The big issue is how to build greater resilience to disasters and reduce their risks.

First, it is important to define disaster risk reduction as a major development challenge which must be fully integrated in the post-2015 development agenda and the SDGs.

Second, it is essential that disaster risk is integrated into everything from the delivery of basic services to long-term development planning and programming at the country level. Tackling poverty and risk together cannot just be about individual ‘projects’. Every decision, every budget, and every brick laid has to be risk-informed.

UNDP has been supporting such a paradigm shift on building resilience into development. We see country successes from Cuba to Mozambique and beyond in integrating disaster risk reduction into laws, policies, and long-term development plans. Countries which prioritize disaster risk reduction will address risk at each step of their development path.

Third, we must listen to those who are the most vulnerable, and live daily with disaster risk. They are well positioned to know what needs to be done to reduce their risk and what resources they need to build sustainable futures.

Fourth, we must build partnerships with the private sector in support of both poverty reduction and disaster risk reduction. With private businesses accounting for about 85 per cent of total global investment, how the private sector decides to allocate its funds will have a huge impact – not only on the outlook for disaster risk, but on sustainable development in general. In UNDP we strive to help countries and communities harness the potential of such investments, and turn it into long-term poverty reduction and sustainable development.

The draft new global framework for disaster risk reduction has noted the relationship between DRR and development. There are more major conference outcomes this year, including the UN Special Summit on Sustainable Development which must also emphasize the links. UNDP is committed to helping countries and communities build resilience, to ensuring that development is risk-informed, and to seeing that disaster risk reduction is prioritized in global and national development agendas.

Source: Africa