Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have come together here in Sendai, bringing with us our own, distinct history of disasters – disasters that may have killed members of our communities, destroyed homes, livelihoods and schools, and may have caused major financial loss.
In these days we can see the disastrous consequences of cyclone Pam that just hit Vanuatu and other Pacific islands. Our thoughts go out to the victims and their loved ones.
We have come together here in Japan where the destructive forces of disasters not only form part of the collective memory of the nation, but indeed that of the international community.
I take this opportunity to commemorate the victims of the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake and to commend the affected Prefectures for their outstanding reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.
Switzerland is grateful to the Government of Japan for hosting this important conference. We also thank the United Nations and Special Representative Margareta Wahlström and her team for their tireless work in helping to move the disaster risk reduction agenda forward.
Switzerland is strongly committed to disaster risk reduction. This has been a priority issue for many decades. It is no coincidence that Switzerland supported and hosted the preparatory process for this conference in Geneva, Europe’s capital of peace and development which is also home to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
We are strongly committed to disaster risk reduction for three reasons:
First, disasters are a huge challenge. The number of displaced persons has markedly increased in recent years not just because of the many violent conflicts but also because natural disasters are forcing more and more people to leave their homes in search of a new beginning. Economic losses caused by disasters are on the rise, too. And the problem is getting worse: as the population grows, more and more people live in hazardous areas; and with the climate changing, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and follow ever more unpredictable patterns.
Second, measures for reducing disaster risks are cost effective. They are key to the protection of development gains for future generations. This is smart investment that safeguards lives, assets and human potential. For example, in Haiti, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, Switzerland has been engaged in the construction of earthquake-resistant schools and has developed a set of school prototypes together with the governments of the countries in question.
Third, disaster risk reduction is a field where international cooperation is not just indispensable but also feasible. Much progress has been made since the last World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Kobe in 2005. Ten years ago, the focus was still on “why” to reduce disaster risks; it has since shifted to “how” to reduce disaster risks “in the most effective way”.
These positive dynamics in reducing disaster risk through cooperation are essential if we are to live up to our commitment to reduce people’s vulnerability and exposure to disasters. They are also an important signal that multilateralism can still be effective even if the world is divided on some other, geopolitical issues.
Ladies and gentlemen
We are here to set the prevention and resilience agenda for the next generation. The humanitarian response mechanism has reached its limits. The shift from response to a combination of prevention and preparedness is overdue.
Achieving such a shift in practice is easier said than done. It is easier to raise public resources for assistance when a disaster strikes than for preventive measures before an emergency situation occurs. What is more: Prevention is a complex matter involving many actors at different levels.
This is why our commitment as political leaders to disaster risk reduction is essential. Only if governments are committed will we be able to come up with a comprehensive approach including economic investment and innovation and social engagement that is indispensable for reducing disaster risks effectively.
Switzerland adopts a bottom-up approach to its own disaster risk management. As local actors are the first to be affected and to respond to a disaster, it is one of our priorities to empower local communities to develop the necessary instruments for assessing, preventing and mitigating risks – in line with our federal political system.
Coordination and support measures above the local level are an increasingly important complement. By 2020, Switzerland will regularly update and publish its national disaster risk assessment to further improve the protection of its people and their livelihoods. We will also scale up our efforts to complete hazard and risk maps and implement them into land-use-planning. We are sharing the risk information with the population so as to strengthen personal responsibility for risk reduction. All such measures take into account expected future developments such as population and economic growth and climate change.
Disaster resilience also remains a strategic priority of Switzerland’s international cooperation. A quarter of our bilateral humanitarian aid budgets will be allocated to preventive measures.
Here too we place a particular focus on promoting community resilience. We seek to put resources directly into the hands of poor and vulnerable households and communities.
In Bolivia, for example, Switzerland supports a comprehensive DRR programme which is strengthening municipal authorities and has resulted in a major increase in municipal budgets for DRR. To ensure that the measures benefit the communities where the need is most pressing, the activities have been selected in a participatory way. They include flood protection, cattle shelters, water harvesting, and reforestation with useful tree species.
The programme has also supported local agricultural producers through science-based tools such as agricultural risk maps (to determine which crops and cattle species are to be grown in different places) and a meteorological information system. Based on monitoring stations in the field, this information system provides both medium-term forecasts for the coming agricultural season (which allow a better timing of sowing and a better selection of varieties used) and better short-term forecasts.
Thanks to these measures and the dissemination of improved agricultural practices there has been a forty per cent reduction in annual losses caused by disasters. Thousands of poor rural families can spend the additional income on extra food, education and health services – they get more human security as a result of these efforts.
Another example is Pakistan, where Switzerland and the World Food Programme are working closely with local communities in high mountain areas to enhance their resilience to frequently occurring disasters after monsoon rains. 35,000 villagers benefit from a food-for-work scheme to erect dams and flood protection walls, stabilize slopes, plant trees and raise community awareness through training workshops. The results of this innovative scheme, which addresses both food security and disaster mitigation and preparedness, have prompted Pakistani governmental institutions and other stakeholders to apply this approach at the national level.
Finally, let me mention the example of Morocco, which is exposed to high seismic and flooding risks. With Swiss assistance over several years, the urban search and rescue unit of the Moroccan national civil defence authority achieved the international classification according to the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) guidelines in 2014. Morocco is the first country on the African continent to achieve this classification. Furthermore, in collaboration with the Moroccan civil defence authority, a network of nearly 800 neighbourhood volunteers is being established in five cities in order to strengthen Morocco’s community level response capacities within the first hours after a disaster.
Ladies and gentlemen
Switzerland will further increase its political commitment to disaster risk reduction, in cooperation with other countries, the UN and other international organisations.
During our Chairmanship of the OSCE last year, we organised a major DRR conference in Prague to promote this issue in the Euro-Atlantic and the Eurasian region.
Disaster risk reduction will also be an important theme at the upcoming OSCE Asia Conference that we are co-organising with the Republic of Korea. This is the sort of subject that may well foster cooperative security in Asia, too.
2015 offers historic opportunities to also shape the vision of a safer and more sustainable world through a series of global multilateral processes, including the post-2015 agenda and the Paris conference on climate change. Switzerland actively engages in these processes and is seeking to contribute to optimal coherence between them. We will make it a priority to integrate the Sendai outcomes into the post-2015 agenda to achieve the greater resilience of people, communities and states.
Better safe than sorry! Prevention improves the chances of staying on the ‘safe side’ and reduces the risk of ending up on the ‘sorry side’. More prevention through more cooperation makes our common world a safer place; for people today and for the next generation.