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Joining forces for a more resilient world

Commission Européenne - SPEECH/12/844   11/10/2012

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European Commission

Kristalina Georgieva

European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response

Joining forces for a more resilient world

JAICA Institute / Japan

11 October 2012

It is a great honor to be in the JAICA Research Institute and talk about resilience.

When I came to Japan last year after the Great Japan Earthquake, what impressed me the most was the sense of solidarity among the Japanese people and also the commitment to not only rebuild, but to rebuild in a way that makes Japan more resilient to future shocks that are to come.

It is in this spirit of learning lessons from experience that Japan invited us today in Sendai - the epicenter of the earthquake. We were able to visit the affected area. And we could see how enormously advanced the recovery efforts are.

But even more important is the fact that Sendai and Japan are determined to turn the pain, into a gain for Japan and the whole world. Their determination to strive for more resilient society makes it so appropriate that I introduce Europe's new policy on resilience exactly here, at the JICA research institute in Japan.

We live in a world which is becoming richer every year, even at this time of economic difficulties. Today the total GDP of the world is in the order of 60 trillion dollars. And yet this world is also becoming more fragile because of the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters and also because of conflict. At any time, there are 30 to 40 countries struggling with a conflict, either coming out of it or slipping into it. Right now, as we all know, tremendous difficulties affect countries like Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, DR Congo, Yemen, to name just a few.

But also, when you look at the trends of disasters it is absolutely clear they are going up in numbers but also in intensity. Since the mid-70s, the frequency of disasters has increased 5 times and the loss they cause has increased even more.

Last year, 2011, is the record year in terms of disaster damage costs - nearly 400 billion dollars. And this is only a fraction of the actual damage cost - the cost the insurance industry is able to verify. The actual costs are probably 2-3 times higher.

Looking into the future, we know the frequency of disasters will go up even more. Why? Mostly because of climate change. We see that the trend in natural disasters related to weather events is going up and up over the last decade. But climate change also makes disasters more dramatic. Erratic weather is becoming very difficult to handle, even for rich countries. On top, population growth boosts the number of disaster victims in poor countries. Add to that the impact of urbanization and economic development, and you'll see that there is more to be lost when a disaster hits. And then there is the risk of human errors, human-induced disasters, like the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Unfortunately, when a disaster strikes it is always the poorest people who pay the highest price. We know from experience that in poor countries, the most vulnerable: children the elderly, the handicapped and pregnant women, are the most dramatic victims of disasters. We got some telling figures in the report released in Sendai yesterday - disasters in poor countries are only 9% of the total number, but the victims of these disasters are 48% of all disaster victims – almost half of the total number! That is why we need to change our approach from a focus on response to a focus that also includes preparedness. In other words, we need to build resilience recognizing it is a long term effort.

This is not going to happen overnight. Resilience measures have to be embedded in national policies, but they cannot be just a responsibility of a disaster management agency or one ministry. They have to be the responsibility for everyone from top to bottom and from the bottom up. This is why we need to recognize that disaster risk management is an integral part of genuine sustainable development.

Resilience is also part of the fight against poverty. The ultimate goal of the EU development policy is to have a world free of poverty. But unless we recognize that disasters are a new and great obstacle to this goal, we will have a hard time making a success of this ambition.

Investing in resilience is a moral imperative, but it is also a financial imperative. We know now that for every Dollar, every Yen, every Euro invested in resilience, the benefit in terms of reduced damage costs is four to seven times higher. So this is an area of public investment and also individual household investment where the return is an astonishing 400 to 700 percent! Let me ask you – of your own investments, how many bring a return of 400 to 700 percent?

And yet, we need to recognize that making this investment in resilience requires a mindset change. And this change requires for this conversation to deepen.

I have been a Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid now for two and a half years. I have seen the most dramatic human tragedies you can imagine. A vast majority of those are caused by natural disasters. From here in Japan to the Horn of Africa famine last year, to the Sahel hunger, to the places where natural disasters and conflicts are intertwined. Seeing what I've seen, it is clear to me that humanitarian needs are going up. This is something we need to think of when we internalize the importance of resilience. We, Europeans, as well as global donors in general, spend around 90 percent of assistance funding for development and about 10 percent for humanitarian aid. But in disaster-prone countries, the proportion of humanitarian aid is much larger – 20 to 30 percent. This means less money for development. Yes, humanitarian aid is absolutely essential to save lives, but development is the best resilience-builder and unless we find the way to cut down, to trim down the humanitarian costs of the future, there will be less money to educate children, less money to build critical infrastructure and less money to support growth and self-reliance in the developing world.

I want to show you what I think is a vivid example of investing in resilience as a moral and financial imperative. How many of you know what this is? (Showing a tricolored flexible ruler) This is actually a very useful, simple and cheap way to find out whether a child is at risk of malnutrition. You put it around the upper arm of a child. From 9 months to 59 months of age, when the measurement is in the green, this means the child is healthy; when it gets into yellow or orange, this is a sign that the child suffers from malnutrition; and when it gets into the red, then this malnutrition is severe. A red indication may very well mean that this child will not survive, and it definitely means that if the child survives it will never grow up reach its full potential.

So if we have preventive systems in place, when we can catch malnutrition before it happens. These two centimeters, this is what resilience means for a child. To treat a child when it is in the yellow spectrum costs 10 dollars; if we are late, it costs 200 hundred dollars and there is no guarantee that this child will actually live. The money that we spend to treat a child is money very well spend, but just imagine what we can do with this money to educate this kid, to immunize it or to invest in electricity so it can have access to internet.

This pure rationale, of doing the right thing morally and financially, has driven the European Union's strong commitment to invest in resilience as a priority for countries that are at high risk of disasters. This is why we came up with our new policy for a more resilient world. In a nutshell, its message is a simple one - we cannot stop natural disasters, but we can prevent them from turning into humanitarian catastrophes. And we can use our resources wisely to underpin development and to make societies more resilient to future shocks.

This new policy is a joint effort of the Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs and myself, and it is very important because humanitarian and development assistance must come together in fragile environments if we are to foster success.

From our humanitarian perspective, what we bring to this new policy is our higher risk tolerance. We work in harsh conditions and we are accustomed to that. And also, our activities are integrated in local communities and our projects for resilience are bottom-up and community-driven.

And from the development perspective, our colleagues contribute by engaging across agencies in government - finance energy, transport, agriculture, social affairs. This is very important because, for resilience to work, it must be everybody's business. The second advantage they bring is their capacity to think to the root causes for vulnerability, to work on structural reforms.

The example that comes to my mind is Haiti. It was devastated by the 2010 earthquake largely because of poor governance, but also because of very bad use of land (the country's forest was chopped down which made erosion of the soil so much easier, so when the earthquake hit, there was nothing to protect people in their natural environment).

In the center of our new policy is the ambition to have resilience as the ultimate goal to our humanitarian and development activities in disaster-prone countries. In other words, we will look at how to address risks and how to protect the most vulnerable people - and we will do that jointly.

This point may sounds trivial but it is very important that we program humanitarian interventions and development interventions together. Today, worlds of humanitarian aid and development tend to be separated from each other, and for a good reason – humanitarians are there to save lives, come with ambulances, quickly appear on the scene, whereas the development community focuses on the long-term, they cannot be ambulance chases. But the question is how we can bring the advantages of these two funding streams to the benefit of people and especially to the benefit of the most vulnerable people.

Our new policy is our answer to this question. It has five elements:

First, to work toward a deeper understanding of the disaster risks faced by countries and communities, especially the poorest and most vulnerable ones. This is a scenario where we can collaborate with JAICA - to develop simple methodologies for better risk understanding, so we can design successful strategies to address them.

The second element of our new policy is to be more strategic in our work in disaster-prone countries. This means addressing the structural issues that underpin vulnerability, such as land-use planning and water resource management.

One example - in many countries where water is scarce it is also not used to its full potential, like in the Sahel or the Horn of Africa where droughts are frequent, but there are also flush floods which bring destruction but they also bring water which could be saved and used in the dry months. So we need a better understanding how to turn erratic water supply into an advantage, thus making communities more resilient to droughts.

Another example is education, especially in disaster-prone areas, where resilience must be embedded in the education of even the young children. Yesterday in Sendai I saw something that really touched me. I visited a school near the coast, which was flooded up to the second floor by the tsunami wave which followed the earthquake. Six months before the disaster, the school principal undertook a review of the evacuation procedures for the children, and changed from evacuating by gathering in the yard to evacuating on the roof of the school. Not one single child died in the disaster that followed. Because of these changes, because of the drills, the children knew what to do. But in many developing countries there is no awareness of what the risks are. There are no guides to help children, no well-established procedure. So this is an area where a structural change, a policy change is critical.

This change would be better if we bring our actions closer. Small and cheap activities, linked together, can make a big difference for resilience in disaster-prone countries. One example is from the Moyale region in northern Kenya, where since 2006 we have invested in very simple measures like water harvesting from the roof into plastic containers, like shrinking the size of the livestock when a draught is coming, and like putting mobile clinics on the road, identifying early the children in malnutrition risk. In result of these simple and cheap measures, during last year's hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa Moyale's child mortality rate was 50% lower than in the neighboring Turkana region.

The third element of our new policy for resilience is focusing on a more distant horizon for our funding. Planning for years ahead allows for flexibility, because things change and when they do, we need to be able to refocus and redirect.

The fourth element is the emphasis on developing innovative solutions and instruments. Among them is the insurance instrument. Today poor farmers have nothing to live on when a disaster wipes out their crop. So we have to find a way as a development community to bring insurance to those farmers, so they can rely on it as people do in the developed world. We also have to bring new cheap and appropriate technologies. Here at JAICA you are enormously experienced in this respect - I just learnt of the design of low-cost, earthquake-proof housing.

The fifth element of our new policy is the emphasis on international advocacy. For resilience to penetrate the development agenda it is not enough for us to have just policies and declarations – a considerable effort is required for the international community to recognize that the world has changed, and that we have an obligation to equip the people at risk of these changes. This is an obligation to the poorest, but also to our safety and security everywhere, because disasters can bring instability to countries and regions beyond the point where they strike.

Let me tell you where we are with the operational application of this new policy. We believe that the policy is only as good as its implementation. For that reason we have set two priority regions where we are applying this approach: the Horn of Africa, where we have put forward a new programme we call SHARE: Supporting Horn of Africa Resilience, and the Sahel with a similar program we call AGIR: Alliance Globale pour l'Initiative Resilience au Sahel.

In the Horn of Africa we have already provided 271 million EUR of development and humanitarian funding, and actually today I am adding another 30 million EUR to this sum. We have also made a commitment for the next seven years, aiming for a billion EUR invested in resilience in the Horn of Africa. That would include areas like nutrition, livestock management, drought resilience and agriculture. In the Sahel, we are following a similar approach. In both places we work with regional organizations and national governments, because resilience is only as good as the commitment and will of the people for whom its programs are designed.

Finally, a word of caution – in both the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, results will not come overnight. This is the challenge of resilience - it takes a long time to achieve; and on the top of that, when you avert a disaster nobody knows about it, it doesn’t make the six o clock news. Prevention does not make headlines the way disasters do. Resilience is “a dog that doesn’t bark”, unlike a disaster. And yet, resilience is the paramount investment we can make for disaster prone countries.

To end, let me underline once again our commitment to continue and expand our cooperation with JAICA, because on this issue we truly not only see eye to eye and feel heart to heart. This is the platform on which our partnership will evolve. We can exchange information, learn from each other’s experiences and join forces for a more resilient world - for us, but most importantly for our children.


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