Vietnam calls for UN help to tackle disasters

SENDAI, Japan - Viet Nam has high hopes that the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will help reach a new global framework on mitigating the risks to better tackle natural catastrophes and global warming, Vice President Nguyen Thi Doan told participants.

Held every ten years, this third meeting opened in Sendai in tsunami-hit Japan on Saturday.

Representatives of the governments of more than 180 countries are attending the event, which aims to review the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action in the 2005-2015 period and adopt a Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction by the end of the five-day event.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Doan said: "Viet Nam expects the UN to play the role of a stronger co-ordinator in disaster risk reduction at the global level, as well as in the more disaster-prone countries like Viet Nam."

Viet Nam often bears the brunt of natural calamities, totalling more than 400 people killed and missing every year.

The country also suffers losses amounting to hundreds of millions of US dollars every year due to these disasters, according to Doan.

Thanks to assistance from the UN and international communities, Viet Nam improved its capability of coping with natural disasters and the impacts of climate change, she pointed out.

Over the last five years, the number of casualties and people gone missing due to disasters dropped by 8 per cent, while the number of people injured by them decreased 17 per cent, Doan told international reporters.

"Viet Nam highly appreciates the UN and international communities for taking into consideration the vital role of women in disaster risk reduction, which Viet Nam adopts as well," she remarked.

"Viet Nam has implemented the Hyogo Framework for Action in the 2005-15 period. It hopes that the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction will be adopted with a clear vision by the end of the conference."

The vice president further recommended that every country create an effective and complete law that primarily addresses this critical issue.

Each country should also call for co-operation between its business community and government to reduce risks posed by natural disasters, in addition to the application of cutting-edge technologies in their supervision, assessment and prediction.

The conference, which was held in the presence of the Emperor and Empress of Japan, was also attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Economic losses on the rise

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that annual economic losses now exceeded US$300 billion, up from the earlier value of $250 billion.

"We can either watch the number grow as more people suffer, or we can dramatically lower the figure and invest savings into development. Allocating six billion dollars towards this end every year can result in savings of up to $360 billion by 2030," he explained.

Speaking before 4,000 participants attending the opening ceremony, the secretary-general noted, "Disaster risk reduction advances progress in sustainable development and climate change."

He also praised the existing global agreement on disaster risk reduction, the Hyogo Framework for Action, which was adopted ten years ago in Kobe, Japan.

The conference continues to be used as a platform where discussions are ongoing to come to an agreement on a new framework for disaster risk reduction that will update the Hyogo Framework for Action.

French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius made an appeal at the opening ceremony for the creation of a worldwide early warning system for climate-related disasters.

He observed that 70 per cent of disasters were now linked with climate change, double the number from twenty years ago.

According to Fabius, disaster risk reduction and the struggle against climate change were intrinsically linked.

"It is necessary to tackle these problems together, not separately," he told Viet Nam News.

He noted that more than 70 countries were identified as particularly vulnerable and exposed to "extreme weather events" such as typhoons, torrential rain, and storms, both sand and snow.

Rich countries were not "immune" to the impacts of climate change, he warned, adding, "But the most vulnerable countries are the poorest".

Also speaking at the conference, Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlstrum pointed out, "After three years of consultation on the post-2015 framework, there is a consensus that we must move from managing disasters to managing the risks they pose."

The framework is based upon a global blueprint for disaster risk reduction with a ten-year plan, adopted in 2005 by the governments of 168 nations at the second conference in Kobe, Japan.

Support from Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged $4 billion to support the implementation of the "Sendai Co-operation Initiative for Disaster Risk Reduction" over the next four years.

The package will focus on the development of disaster-proof infrastructure, the promotion of global and regional co-operation, and the training of 40,000 government officials and local leaders to play a leading role in national efforts towards disaster risk reduction.

In addition, Japan will make its expertise and knowledge available, according to Abe.

"Disaster risk reduction is the most important challenge for both developed and developing countries, particularly for the latter group of countries where 90 per cent of the victims of disasters are concentrated. This is, indeed, an issue that requires mutual assistance. Japan will contribute to the international community with its knowledge and technology," the prime minister affirmed.

At least 700,000 people have died since the last conference in Kobe, Japan, in 2005; as many as 1.7 billion people have been affected; and economic losses amounting to US$1.4 trillion have been incurred as a result of major reported disasters.

The first conference took place in Yokohama in 1994.

Sideline meetings

On the sidelines of the event, Vice President Nguyen Thi Doan met with Japanese Emperor Akihito and his spouse, during which the Japanese royal couple thanked Viet Nam for supporting Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

She later spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who pledged to assist Viet Nam in socio-economic development, preventing and addressing the consequences of natural disasters, and coping with climate change.

Doan also met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Helen Clark. During the meeting she sincerely thanked the UN for helping Viet Nam work toward its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially in poverty alleviation, gender equality and adapting climate change.

Ban Ki-moon and Helen Clark lauded Viet Nam's participation in the conference, saying the country had good experience in natural disaster mitigation.

They congratulated Viet Nam on fulfilling most of the MDGs, helping lead the One United Nations initiative and joining the UN peace-keeping mission in South Sudan.

Doan also met with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida yesterday.

The two expressed their satisfaction about the countries' strong bilateral ties, especially after the two countries heightened their ties to the status of "strategic partnership for peace and prosperity in Asia" during President Truong Tan Sang's state visit to Japan in March, 2014.