15 July 2005
Tsunami Special Envoy Bill Clinton Tells ECOSOC most Challenging Days Lay Ahead in Recovery, Disaster Prevention, Applying Lessons Learned
Says Focus of Current Effort Is “Build Back Better”, as Council Holds Four Panel Discussions on Response to Indian Ocean Disaster
NEW YORK, 14 July (UN Headquarters) -- Paying tribute to the extraordinary efforts of the United Nations and the world humanitarian community in the early weeks following the tsunami, former United States President Bill Clinton, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, warned that the most challenging days lay ahead in recovery, disaster prevention and applying lessons-learned, as he addressed the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) today.
Mr. Clinton’s remarks came as the Council considered tsunami recovery efforts during a day-long series of panel discussions on lessons-learned in the tsunami response, both in the emergency and recovery phases, as part of the humanitarian affairs segment of its 2005 substantive session.
“We are still in the early months of the recovery process itself”, Mr. Clinton said. “History tells us that this phase is in many ways the most difficult.” The focus of the current effort was to “build back better”, he said. However, many people were still living in tents, despite the fact that there were sufficient resources to build satisfactory, semi-permanent shelter. He challenged the international community to overcome politics and other complications and solve the remaining problems. He also urged ECOSOC to work to pre-position resources needed for reconstruction.
He said that, clearly, the effects would have been less devastating if preventive measures had been taken beforehand -- if building codes had been adhered to, vegetation had not been cleared from the coasts, there had been more preventive awareness, and early warning systems had been implemented. He called for quick implementation of all such disaster mitigation measures.
He noted that while the framework for the recovery effort was in place in most of the affected countries, specific policy and operational challenges needed to be resolved for a successful recovery, including the creation of a common action plan for all actors and agreement on environmental issues. He had asked the affected governments to take the lead on that and said he had tasked members of his Global Consortium to fully support initiatives on the ground.
He said that some of the affected countries were making substantial contributions on their own. The Maldives, however, having just graduated out of the least developed countries, was falling behind in funding. He requested a delay for its change in status, so it could qualify for the necessary aid.
Building on Mr. Clinton’s remarks, a panel on recovery efforts convened in the afternoon, moderated by Margareta Wahlström, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. Panellists included Prasad Karyawassam, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka, Heru Prasetyo, Director of the Jakarta Office of the Agency for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction for Aceh and Nias, Indonesia; Brent Dark, Deputy Resident Director of the North American Regional Office of the Asian Development Bank; Hafiz Pasha, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Asia and the Pacific regions for the United Nations Development Programme; Johan Shaar, Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies for the Tsunami; and Richard China, Acting Director of the Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division and Coordinator of Tsunami Response for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Speakers in that session outlined the recovery efforts that had been pursued, thus far, by their respective governments and organizations. Beside the necessity of government ownership and full inclusion of the private sector, they said that one of the major lessons-learned in recovery was the importance of community-driven reconstruction.
Prior to the discussion on recovery, a panel on emergency response was moderated by Jan Egeland, Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. Panellists in that discussion included Ms. Wahlström as well as Sujana Royat, Deputy Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare of Indonesia; Brigadier General Goh Kee Nguan of Singapore; Ann Veneman, the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Jean-Jacques Graisse, Senior Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP); Karen Katen, Vice-Chairman of Pfizer, Inc. and President of Pfizer Human Health and Global Pharmaceuticals; and Nicolas de Torrente, Executive Director of Médecins Sans Frontières of the United States.
Panellists in that session described the massive response to the devastation, which all agreed was successful in that it prevented outbreaks of disease, starvation and other predicted problems, such as child trafficking in orphans. Everyone also agreed that coordination for such a large influx of aid and aid organizations had to be improved and that the structures for such coordination had to be set up before they were needed.
Mr. Graisse of the WFP pointed to bottlenecks in air and land transport. In addition, he said that assessment methods had to be improved, and assistance to governments in building response capacity also had to be brought into play more quickly and strongly. Transferable best practices in all those areas now had to be developed.
This afternoon, a panel was also held on disaster risk reduction, mitigation and preparedness, moderated by Kathleen Cravero, Director, Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Panellists were Filipe Chidumo, Permanent Representative of Mozambique and Salvano Briceno, Director of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
In that discussion, all participants emphasized the need for people-centred preparedness and national capacity-building. While Mr. Chidumo described his country’s efforts to mitigate the effects of flooding, both Mr. Briceno and Mr. Osman stressed the importance of adherence to the Hyogo Framework for Action.
In the discussions following their presentations, delegates affirmed the importance of completing early warning systems, particularly in the Indian Ocean, to restore confidence. Hope was also expressed that disaster preparedness would not drain funds from development efforts.
The Economic and Social Council will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 15 July, to conclude its humanitarian affairs segment.
The Economic and Social Council met today to continue the humanitarian segment of its current session with a focus on lessons learned in relation to special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance. The Council was expected to take up the matter in the form of panel discussions on various aspects of lessons learned from the recent Indian Ocean tsunami disaster. (For background on the current session, see Press Release ECOSOC/6154 issued on 23 June.)
Introduction of Panel Discussions
JOHAN VERBEKE (Belgium), Vice-President of ECOSOC, recounted the devastation of the December tsunami in the Indian Ocean, which killed more than 240,000 people and severely affected more than 158 million. In the aftermath, he said, there was an unprecedented outpouring of solidarity, generosity, support and global cooperation among all members of the international community: national governments, the military, civil society and the private sector -- all of whom played a vital part in the relief effort. Today would be devoted to reflecting on the overall success of that cooperation and identify how coordination might be improved and the effect of future catastrophes mitigated.
First Panel Discussion
JAN EGELAND, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and moderator of the first panel, said the tsunami was nature at its worst, but also humanity at its best. There was no outbreak of disease, no mass starvation; schools were quickly reopened, and heath facilities are probably better now than they were before in the affected regions. There were also many things that could be improved in the areas of delivery and coordination; that was the purpose of today’s lessons-learned exercise. He then introduced the following panellists, saying that now there was an even-greater challenge of reconstruction. Why so many people were killed and so much destruction occurred also had to be investigated, so it did not happen again.
SUJANA RYOAT, Coordinating Ministry for People’s Welfare of Indonesia, said disasters had no borders. Improved strategies, cross-sector linkages and cross country networks boosted the resilience of vulnerable livelihoods in the face of multidimensional risks. Strong partnerships maximized synergies between development and relief efforts to enhance the effectiveness of aid.
In wake of the recent disaster, he said, his group was engaged in actions to improve the capacity to better understand the vulnerabilities and develop response mechanisms for recovery. A Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency had been established in Aceh as a coordinating centre to track project demands and ensure transparency, accountability and speed in reconstruction. The roles of national and regional disaster coordination committees were being examined and further vulnerable areas identified. The ECOSOC dialogue on the lessons learned was critical for developing the global cooperation needed to tackle the impact of disasters none could handle alone.
GOH KEE NGUAN, Singapore Armed Forces, said one of the key factors behind the Singapore army’s success in Indonesia, was its ability to create and maintain good will and trust on the ground. The military discovered that “slow is fast”, and provided effective relief and took the time to understand the host nation’s needs and established a good working relationship with local authorities.
He also stressed the need to apply aid with precision in a focused, timely and relevant manner. The Army did this by working with the United Nations, non-United Nations global organizations and foreign military units to coordinate aid distribution. He said that civil-military collaboration was essential and allowed military forces to respond quickly to stabilize the situation with emergency relief assistance. Then United Nations agencies, other international organizations and local authorities could use their resources and experience and brought the right assistance to the right people at the right time and place.
MARGARETA WAHLSTRÖM, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Special Coordinator for the Tsunami Response, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the high expectations for immediate relief results was one of the key issues facing United Nations relief officials when they arrived on the ground in Aceh. Other factors were the many unknown elements of the situation, the large number of actors on the ground from around the world and the vast array of international resources.
One important element that contributed to the operation’s success was that local government authorities set the priorities and international organizations followed those priorities throughout the relief activities of the first several months, she said. The large amount of available resources let international relief workers focus on the job at hand. International groups needed mechanisms in place to coordinate the release of aid flowing in from all part of the globe and help local authorities cope with this aid.
JEAN-JACQUES GRAISSE, Senior Deputy Director, World Food Programme (WFP), said that the WFP quickly launched a major operation after the tsunami hit. It was quickly learned that the major challenge was getting the food to people who most needed it. Augmented operations, including logistics coordination, were quickly set up and 300 staff members were brought from other WFP operations.
He said that, in Indonesia, early coordination with military forces, both foreign and Indonesian, was critical. That coordination must be improved to serve people better and faster. Linkages with private entities for goods and services needed to be strengthened in a more systemic way, as well. Attention should also be focused on averting bottlenecks in ground transport and air traffic control. The solution to that problem was not easy, however.
In addition, he said that assessment methods had to be improved, and assistance to governments in building response capacity also had to be brought into play more quickly and strongly. Transferable best practices in all those areas now had to be developed.
ANNE VENEMAN, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), describing UNICEF’s massive response to the tsunami, said that in the future cooperation must be improved and a focus had to be made on building back better. Vigilance must be continued to prevent child trafficking through registration, community awareness, universal education and government action. Preventing malnutrition among women and children required a similar complex of actions.
KAREN KATEN, Vice-Chairman of Pfizer, Inc., said that managing the complex balancing act of business, risk and social responsibility had forced Pfizer to master disciplines that could make it a strong partner to supply and, importantly, deliver humanitarian aid, since it was not enough to just dump medicines on the ground. Since health issues were complex, partnership in the sector was essential. Pfizer’s global efforts against trachoma, malaria and HIV/AIDS tested its partnerships with UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and others.
When the tsunami hit, established partnerships helped Pfizer work with United Nations agencies at a moment’s notice. To improve such coordination, a business round table, headed by Pfizer’s chairman, was developing a new programme called the Partnership for Disaster Relief, which would include a database of private-sector resources in ready reserve for on-site assistance. The goal was to channel goods, services, finances and skills to non-governmental organizations and multilateral agencies better and faster.
The response to the tsunami was driven by what she called the “Five Ms”: money, medicines, manpower, minds and mechanisms. The corporation and employees donated tens of millions in cash, medicines and health products; stand-by experts were sent to affected areas to rebuild sanitation facilities, build storage for medicines, and provide many other functions. There were delays in that process, because there was no established arrangement to work with the United Nations and its agencies in emergency situations.
In the future, in addition, she said that experts must be primed to travel at a moment’s notice. A cadre is now being prepared through a Global Health Fellows programme. Better trust, transparency and tools, shared between the private and public sectors, overseen by rigorous governance, could help responses not only to acute disasters, but also the daily disasters of disease, hunger and poverty.
NICOLAS DE TORRENTE, Executive Director, Médecins Sans Frontière, United States, said the emergency needs of the tsunami-affected population had been relatively limited. The risk of a massive death toll due to epidemic outbreaks had been exaggerated. The local solidarity and national assistance that had played by far the most important role in the acute emergency response phase had been widely under-reported. The natural question was: How useful and relevant was the massive international emergency response?
The tsunami differed from conflict situations in the staggering number of deaths it had caused, he said. The dead far outnumbered the injured. The priorities for the surviving homeless were well established: clean water, sanitation and food; vaccination coverage; epidemiological surveillance. Preventing epidemic outbreaks was basic in such situations and there had been no basis for alarmist claims, in the media and in agencies such as WHO, that communicable diseases could kill as many as the tsunami itself. The result was a massive influx of donations, and pressure to use it.
He said the tsunami was an exceptional emergency in the level of its destruction. Since the vast majority of the immediate emergency response came from local efforts, the overcapacity of the international response overwhelmed the local capacity’s ability to absorb it. The effect created chaos, but the international presence provided benefits. The resources had allowed for the critical element of trauma treatment, and inequity in local response was minimized in conflict and politically tense areas.
In brief, he said, the flood of assistance from the range of actors generated activities of little added value. The lesson learned was to recognize that the acute emergency phase was limited in scope and time: recovery must take place as soon as possible and emergency relief efforts should not delay that. The most useful initiatives had been those that provided economic means for recovery, such as boat-building. A mobilization of government funding was meeting the massive reconstruction needs. His organization would continue to provide medical care to those affected by the ongoing conflict in Aceh.
In their comments and questions, Council members focused on the need to establish an early warning system for disasters; the importance of civil-military cooperation in relief efforts; and greater financial accountability of donor contributions.
The representative of Nicaragua wanted to know what efforts the international community was making to establish early warning systems at the regional and national levels to deal with all types of disasters. He also asked what type of training international groups could provide at the regional and national levels to help local authorities react to natural disasters.
The representative of the Netherlands said his country strongly supported civil-military coordination and urged the United Nations to generate the financial and political support needed to generate this cooperation. He also supported United Nations efforts to set guidelines to maintain financial accountability of public and private contributions.
The representative of the Republic of Korea stressed the importance of civil-military collaboration, especially during early relief efforts. Korea has been revising its laws to create a legal basis for future relief activities abroad. He also urged the United Nations to play a role in coordinating the response of volunteers that arrived from around the world.
The representative of Germany also stressed the need for civil-military cooperation. He agreed with the Secretary-General’s report that advocates greater financial transparency and accountability of donor contributions and wanted to know how the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs planned to improve its financial tracking system.
The representative of Canada asked how the United Nations could mesh its relief work with any efforts made by private sector deployment teams.
Ms. WAHLSTRÖM said the international community needed commitment to develop an early warning system and a system could be achieved if the Hyogo Framework for Action was taken seriously. She said the private sector could be a resource alongside the intergovernmental system. She added that civilian and military groups needed to evaluate how they could work together in a relief situation that was very different from post-conflict situations.
Mr. NGUAN said two ways to move toward greater civil-military cooperation would be for military personnel to attend civilian relief courses and for United Nations personnel to get involved in military conferences. He also advocated the creation of a joint conference to define the roles of the military and civil organizations in relief activities.
Second Panel: Recovery Challenges
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), paid tribute to the international solidarity that characterized the response to the tsunami, and to former United States President Bill Clinton for his actions as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy in that effort. Addressing Mr. Clinton, he said that ECOSOC was charged with dealing with the daily tsunami that occurred in the poorest parts of the world.
Mr. VERBEKE (Belgium) said that the good will of the international community must be translated into concrete, coordinated action for long-term recovery. Acute needs had been addressed. Now efforts must be maintained in the interest of recovery, development and future disaster prevention.
WILLIAM CLINTON, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Tsunami Recovery, said that for the last five months he had worked on maintaining a unified response, creating a disaster prevention system, and working out useable lessons-learned. The focus of the current effort was to “build back better”.
Those recent months had reconfirmed his belief, he said, in the intrinsic value of the United Nations, both as the deliverer of vital services in the aftermath of a crisis and as the glue that holds international cooperation together. In each country, the United Nations teams were working hard in assisting the respective countries. Yet, as impressive as the immediate response was, the momentum had to be kept up to tackle the difficult, longer-term recovery phase.
He said that, clearly, the affects would have been less if preventive measures had been taken -- if building codes had been adhered to, vegetation had not been cleared from the coasts, there had been more preventive awareness, and early warning systems had been implemented. He called for quick implementation of all such disaster mitigation measures. Among other factors, tourism would not return until that was done.
Paying tribute to the extraordinary effort of the United Nations and the humanitarian community at large in the early weeks following the tsunami, he warned the audience that the most challenging days lay ahead. Many people were still living in tents, despite the fact that there were sufficient resources to have created satisfactory, semi-permanent shelter. He challenged the international community to work out problems and to solve the remaining problems. He also urged the Council to preposition resources for other recovery problems.
He noted that, while the framework for the recovery effort was in place in most of the affected countries, specific policy and operational challenges needed to be resolved for a successful recovery, including the creation of a common action plan for all actors. He had asked the affected governments to take the lead on that, and had tasked members of his Global Consortium to fully support initiatives on the ground.
Some of the affected countries were making substantial contributions on their own, he said. The Maldives, however, having just graduated out of the least developed countries, was falling behind in funding. He requested a delay for its change in status, so it could qualify for the necessary aid.
He said that the Global Consortium had also been involved with the creation of a unified financial tracking system for global tsunami relief efforts. That kind of mechanism made it one of the best efforts he had ever been involved in. There had also been much progress in engaging local communities to make recovery a ground-up effort. Asking people to overcome politics in the common recovery effort, he asked for support for the Sri Lankan Prime Minister at this time.
Human resource and capacity constraints needed to be addressed swiftly, while livelihoods needed to be restored, he said. For example, housing construction industries needed to be created in some countries. In addition there were policy issues that had to be resolved, such as the coastal zoning question in Sri Lanka and the lack of clarity on shelter and timber-sourcing guidelines for reconstruction in Aceh. The lack of land titles had become a problem for many reasons; the World Bank was assisting registration of such titles in Aceh. He hoped that similar efforts would occur elsewhere.
There had been a surprising, large outpouring of funding, particularly in the emergency and mid-term phase; the problem was to spend it effectively and transparently. Recounting anecdotes about the affected people, he said that they deserved the best efforts of the international community. “We need to help them begin again”, he concluded.
In the discussion that followed, general issues were raised. In addition, the representative of the United Kingdom spoke on behalf of the European Union to ask what was being done to make sure corruption didn’t creep into the reconstruction effort. Indonesia’s representative asked how relief delivery could be changed to lay a better foundation for recovery. How could the media be engaged?
Japan’s representative wanted to know what could be done to dissolve the bottlenecks to recovery. Mexico’s speaker asked when the international community should leave and put matters in national hands. The representative of Bangladesh asked for more information about what was being done for the vulnerable victims. Finally, a representative for an umbrella non-governmental organization, the International Council for Voluntary Agencies, asked how governments could be influenced to work more closely with non-governmental organizations in settling the land-shortage issue that was keeping victims homeless.
Mr. CLINTON said there was historical precedent for corruption in disaster situations. In the case of the tsunami, evidence indicated some corruption in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, but it had stopped. That was probably because the countries had set up accountability systems for the huge sums that had poured in. Most likely the countries wanted to run the recovery right and they knew more money wouldn’t be forthcoming if evidence of corruption were to be made public. Also, non-governmental organizations were involved. In his view, there was plenty of corruption all over the world, but the lack of capacity was a much bigger problem.
On the role of the media, he said money had poured into the region because the emotions of people had been touched. The lesson learned was that goals could be achieved if an emotional connection was raised for a cause. The Millennium Development Goals could be achieved if they were made the focus of raised emotion. There could be a year to eradicate poverty, a year to eradicate malaria, a year for achieving universal primary education and so on. As far as engaging the media went, “that’s why I’ve been hired”, he said.
Continuing, he said national emergency response mechanisms should be modelled on the FEMA system in place in the United States. Deploying local response mechanisms shortened the response time greatly. With regard to the non-governmental organizations and the housing problem, he said a more permanent and systematic relationship should be established between financial institutions, non-governmental organizations and governments. The way to deal with bottlenecks was to determine whether the problem was at the local level or larger, and then take the first step to clearing it. As a rule, his office handled a problem by determining who could solve it.
When should the international community leave a recovery effort in national hands? he said. When the structures that had been destroyed were rebuilt in a better condition. And finally, the vulnerable people were of particular concern to his office. There could never be too much microcredit extended to them. In fact, the best way to spread development was to provide a stream of repayable loans and give people the technical assistance to earn their living.
Council President, Mr. AKRAM (Pakistan), said Mr. Clinton’s address had been a message of hope for the international community working together. Another great leader, Napoleon, had said “leaders are dealers in hope”. That certainly applied to Mr. Clinton.
Second Panel on Recovery
Ms. WAHLSTRÖM, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that it was clear from the previous panel that the recovery phase was even more complicated than the relief phase. Within that complexity, it was necessary to consider where the international community could move fast and where it had to move more slowly. She then introduced the following panellists.
PRASAD KARIYAWASAM (Sri Lanka) said the magnitude of the disaster and its long-term effect made clear that a sustainable recovery would need both local and foreign assistance, plus a central coordinating mechanism to work with district level administrations to channel the assistance. Organizational structures had quickly been established to coordinate relief and recovery efforts in a way that involved all stakeholders to ensure proper management of resources and to guard against duplication of effort. Communications must also be improved.
The importance of national ownership in all efforts at all levels was evident from the start, he said, as donors and well-wishers competed with ideas and projects for how to carry out the recovery. However, successful recovery required a partnership with the locality and an understanding of local conditions and situations. A national blueprint reflecting the local will had been drawn up based on consultations with donors, United Nations entities and civil society organizations. The challenge both nationally and locally was to implement the articulated projects and programmes. Also, the legitimacy, accountability and sustainability of disaster management would have to be ensured through legislation. A Sri Lanka Disaster Management Act had been introduced in February, aimed at raising national standards though a binding instrument.
He said the overwhelming international response during the disaster had provided a challenge to use the pledges in a way that demonstrated the value of the donor community’s generosity. It also provided the opportunity to do so in a way that would convince the donor community to sustain their generosity as a valuable tool in alleviating suffering. Toward that end, a set of principles for international disaster management and for early warning should be elaborated to restore the confidence of local peoples, as well as travellers. Steps had been taken to avoid human-caused disasters. Likewise, principles and measures must be formulated in the form of commitments to action that would mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Capacity-building in post-disaster situations was no longer enough. Anticipatory measures to mitigate the effects of future disasters had to be implemented to create a uniform approach toward disaster management and risk reduction.
HERU PRASETYO, Director of the Jakarta Office of the Agency for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction for Aceh and Nias, Indonesia, said that the reconstruction effort was a great challenge, from the replacement of hundreds of thousands of housing units and 2,260 bridges, to the rebuilding of public institutions and reactivation of educational and health facilities.
Large amounts of funds had been pledged, however, totalling up to $8 billion, though the exact amount was difficult to estimate, he continued. It was difficult to handle such a large amount of money, but the national Government quickly understood that it had to take ownership of the effort and the allocation of resources. The main objective of recovery was giving people back their dignity. Planning for recovery and reconstruction was done in a top-down manner in February, but it was soon realized that input from affected people had to be incorporated.
Among lessons learned so far, he said that multiple methodologies and entry-points of various international actors had to be reconciled. Strong, convincing leadership had to be established in that process. In project generation, coordination had to start very early; even so, some overlap was inevitable. Sustainability had to be ensured early, as well.
To build capacity in the local governments for project implementation, project management and implementation units were created at the national level for joint planning with local government, he said. His agency was building a national control centre for keeping track of needs and projects. In that effort, terminology needed to be reconciled across data sources. Among other lessons, he said that trust was key between the Government and agencies. In addition, it was learned that community-driven reconstruction was not easy. However, it was certainly necessary.
BRENT DARK, Deputy Resident Director, North American Regional Office, Asian Development Bank, estimated that the five countries hit by the tsunami -- Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Thailand -- suffered nearly $8 billion in overall damage and losses. Indonesia experienced the most significant loss with damages totalling $4.5 billion to $5 billion, followed by India at $1.5 billion. Sri Lanka’s losses totalled $900 million, while the Maldives suffered about $300 million in losses.
The Bank created the Asian Tsunami Fund as a vehicle to disburse funds in the form of grants and the Bank’s board had already approved the disbursement of $570 million. The funds would target everything from the restoration of people’s livelihoods to new roads and sanitation facilities to coastal development planning, he said.
He emphasized that any financing of reconstruction activities should be completed with the participation of local government leaders and include feedback from non-governmental organizations and the private sector. And international organizations needed to track the disbursement of funds to ensure accountability and keep the local beneficiaries informed as the funding is disbursed.
HAFIZ PASHA, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Asia and Pacific Region of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said his organization had strengthened its presence in the region by installing recovery counsellors in strategic locations. An information database had been set up to be accessible to all through the Internet. It allowed for national data sharing, for tracking of resource by donors and for ensuring accountability.
JOHAN SCHAAR, special representative for the Tsunami Operation, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the tsunami relief efforts showed that many members of the international community still had not created ready coordination mechanisms, despite decades of repeated recovery efforts. He said organizations should document the recovery efforts used after last year’s tsunami, so they could set guidelines to handle future disasters.
He said another challenge of the recovery efforts was meshing individual and community initiatives with overall government planning in such areas as building standards, for example, to ensure people rebuilt in safe areas. He added that the shift from constructing emergency shelters to building newly constructed homes had taken too long and people needed transitional shelters close to where they would ultimately live. That step also would let them play a lead role in the reconstruction efforts.
And finally, he said the needs of internally displaced persons must not be overlooked and reconstruction facilities and services should benefit everybody. If not, tensions could flare between people already displaced by internal conflict for many years and the people who lost their homes during the tsunami.
RICHARD CHINA, Acting Director of the Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division, and Coordinator of Tsunami Response, for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that fishing communities were the worst hit by the tsunami. The FAO was the lead agency in agriculture, fishery and the forestry sectors. Beside coordination and direct assistance, the FAO had provided direct assistance, although those activities had to await proper assessments and took longer.
Certain recovery activities had to be done quicker than others, he said. Timely support for livelihood recovery, for example, was crucial lest that infrastructure fall into irreparable disrepair. Based on the FAO’s experience, it had been advocating a focus on poverty alleviation. Markets were still operating in Aceh, however, so there was a need to maximize local procurement, as well as to avoid overproduction of food in a way that was not sustainable.
The main challenges for local agriculture was the restitution of property rights, reclamation of salt-affected soils, proper planning and the use of appropriate technology, he said. Ordering of boats, for example, was not being done in a sustainable way -- there were 4,000 more ordered for Sri Lanka than had existed there before the tsunami. There was an urgent need for technical coordination. There was also a need to control logging.
The key to managing those problems was to match know-how to resources, he emphasized. Inappropriate and uncoordinated responses would do more harm than good. All aid organizations should act through the coordination mechanisms that had been set up.
Canada’s representative agreed wholeheartedly with the importance of ownership and raised questions about gender equity, particularly in terms of land rights and housing. Also, she asked for views on disaster response and mitigation in areas where people depended on traditional livelihoods. What could be done to facilitate disbursement of funds when they were available, but there was no mechanism to get them to people?
Mr. PRASETYO (Indonesia) said women were a big part of the recovery effort planning process. Measures of disaster mitigation brought up questions of preferences that had to be decided locally: should people be forced to move from vulnerable shores?
Mr. PASHA, UNDP, said steps were being taken to mitigate the effects of disasters in particularly vulnerable areas.
Mr. SHAAR, IFRC, said his agency had begun an important initiative toward setting standards for disaster mitigation and recovery from a regional approach.
Mr. CHINA, FAO, said efforts to bring about early recovery were very
cost-effective and worth the investment, particularly since they avoided the risk of creating dependencies.
Mr. DARK, Asian Development Bank, said disbursement mechanisms were being elaborated and refined based on consultations with local actors.
Ms. WAHLSTRÖM, Moderator, noted the common theme sounded in the discussion. She said the need for technical coordination of efforts was demonstrated by situations in which damage was publicized, as in the case of the fishing boats, and then an influx of assistance in that area overwhelmed the absorption capacity.
Panel on Risk Reduction, Mitigation and Preparedness
KATHLEEN CRAVERO, Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), introducing the panel, said that improvements in preparedness must be made to bring about better results on the ground. The international community must not start from scratch each time disaster strikes.
FILIPE CHIDUMO (Mozambique), on behalf of that country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said that the United Nations Secretary-General’s recommendations on disaster prevention and mitigation would certainly improve readiness for future emergencies. He went on to share his country’s experience in preparedness for natural disasters in the context of his Government’s efforts to reduce vulnerability to the disastrous effects of floods.
The flood problem in Mozambique was caused, he said, by the draining of the majority of river basins in southern Africa through the Mozambique Channel. There were no dams that could regulate that water to mitigate cyclical droughts and floods.
Just before the 2000 floods, his Government took measures to coordinate disaster reduction efforts. Such efforts included contingency planning, based on mapping hazard at the local level. The unprecedented magnitude of the 2000 floods caused additional measures to be taken, including zoning changes and resettlement of displaced persons in less vulnerable locations.
In addition, a nationwide awareness campaign was conducted, a risk map atlas was produced, a cyclone flag warning system was prepared, and contingency plans were updated on an annual basis. A National Disaster Strategic Plan was also drafted and subregional coordination with other members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was improved for regional early-warning.
More needed to be done, however, he said, and was being pursued as part of the Government’s five-year plan. Among the lessons learned was that there was a necessity to ensure prompt disbursements of funds pledged for reconstruction programmes. He also agreed with the Secretary-General’s call to “invest in systematic, people-centred early warning systems for all hazards and to reach all those at risk.”
SALVANO BRICENO, Director, International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, said the development of a global risk reduction strategy was an essential tool for reducing disaster risk and needed strong support from all governments.
He said a greater portion of any financial resources gathered for relief and reconstruction efforts should be earmarked for risk reduction measures. If not, subsequent natural disasters could produce even greater losses. The United Nations Flash Fund distributed by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for example, totalled $1.2 billion, but only about 1 per cent, or $11 million, was dedicated to the development of early warning systems and other risk reduction measures. He also urged humanitarian and development actors to work together more closely on a long-term basis.
IBRAHIM OSAM, Director, Policy and Relations Division, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the organization had focused on reducing disaster risk by reducing people’s vulnerabilities. That approach included the promotion of the Federation’s fundamental principles and humanitarian values; the improvement of disaster response and disaster preparedness; and the promotion of health in the community.
He said a top priority of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies was ensuring that early warning systems addressed all types of hazards and focused on the people. The Federation advocated work at the community level to increase individuals’ awareness of potential hazards and strengthen their abilities to respond to disasters. Early warning messages and evacuation plans should be distributed.
Mr. OSAM added that disaster risk reduction was the job of relief workers, as well as development workers, to ensure recovery efforts would not reconstruct risks. For example, the replanting of mangroves along coastlines in Viet Nam and Bangladesh reduced the human and financial losses incurred from flooding and provided a new livelihood through shrimp farming.
In response to a question from the representative to Malaysia, Mr. BRICENO said that creating national awareness for early warning required many partners. In addition, an intergovernmental coordinating group for early-warning had been identified and work was advanced, since the technologies had already been put in place.
Ireland’s representative asked how the budgetary requirements of flood mitigation were affecting availability of funds for development in Mozambique. Mr. CHIDUMO replied that there was, of course, a diversion of resources, but efforts were being made to ensure the most effective use of funds. Given Mozambique’s situation, there was no choice.
Canada’s representative raised a question about the role of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) and other development mechanisms in disaster reduction.
Mr. BRICENO said the framework information was being compiled for dissemination on the Web.
Ms. CRAVERO, Moderator, said UNDP was working risk reduction measures into national plans. Recovery and preparedness were long processes that took place only after people not affected had forgotten the event. The challenge was to mobilize developmental advances while people were still worked up over the event and willing to provide assistance.
Thailand’s representative said there was an urgent need for a global emergency response team. An information-sharing centre was being set up that would link centres of disaster preparedness.
Mr. CHIDUMO, Mozambique, said any assistance to mitigate the effects of natural disasters was welcome. Countries willing to demonstrate their transparency, accountability and reliability should have their efforts supported.
Mr. OSMAN, IFRC, said among the capacities to build in vulnerable locations was “organization capacity”, improving the ability of people to come together to help themselves and each other.
Ms. CRAVERO, Moderator, summed up the discussion. She said the importance of disaster risk reduction had been brought out. The intensive efforts being taken by governments to improve emergency response and recovery mechanisms was demonstrated in the case of Mozambique.
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