The President of Kiribati posed an important question from the podium today at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. A champion for the rights of his people in the face of climate change and disaster risks, President Tong attends the 3WCDRR, coming from Geneva where he was addressing the Panel Dialogue on Climate Change and Human Rights.
“Natural disasters can cause loss of life or property damage, typically leaving economic and social damages in its wake, the severity of which depends on the resilience of the affected population, or ability to recover.”
“But where does this definition leave those who are affected by the processes and impacts of climate change that also cause economic and social damage?” asked Kiribati President, Anote Tong.
The people of Kiribati live on a low lying atoll, coping with the impacts of climate change on a daily basis making an otherwise challenging lifestyle even more difficult. When it comes to disasters, climate change exacerbates the severity of natural disasters thus worsening the impacts on those it affects.
Climate change is the cause of disasters such as sea level rise which inundates and increases coastal erosion on the already small island atolls; and droughts that leave crops withered posing the risk of reduced water supply.
“I argue therefore that climate change and disasters are integrated and by adopting this position we include all peoples affected into the equations that will form the outcomes of this Conference, if combined with outcomes of past and future meetings such as the SIDS Conference in 2014 in Samoa, the forthcoming Sustainable Development and Climate Change meetings, will improve overall livelihoods of the people of this world – the people whom we serve.”
The Hyogo Framework of Action 2005 – 2015 is coming to an end, to be replaced with the post 2015 framework to be finalised and endorsed at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. Despite the success stories stemming from this Framework, President Tong believes that many have been marginalised in processes and developments over the last 10 years. For example it is still very difficult for the Pacific Island Countries to access financial resources and the transfer of technology has been very limited.
He calls upon people of the vulnerable nations to stop being passive recipients of assistance, “where we stand aside and watch quietly as others do things for us. Let us jump forwards and be the navigators of our plights, let us raise our voice in unison that we know better what needs to be done but we need resources and technical assistance.”
“We in the Pacific are also prone to natural disasters of which the intensity and frequency are accelerated by human induced climate change and have suffered much so. Cyclone Pam demonstrates that. But we have encountered past challenges and tragedies with will and determination and we have overcome and surpassed such challenges.”
President Tong believes the Sendai Promise should not be taken by itself and in isolation, but should relate to other important international conferences planned such as the coming UN Climate Convention in December this year.
“Disaster Risk Reduction should not be separated from issues like climate change because many of the Natural Disasters today are much more life threatening because of the influence of climate change. Thus it is important to continue to talk on climate change but even more important to fast-track and accelerate action now by building on the successes and commitments achieved so far.”
“Let us act now and work together to build resilience against climate change and disasters.”
The Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction is hosted in Sendai, Japan from 14 – 18 March. The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) is a participating partner in the 3WCDRR alongside UNISDR, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the University of the South Pacific together with Pacific Island Countries and Territories to raise awareness of the Integrated Strategy for Climate and Disaster Resilient Development in the Pacific (SRDP). New Caledonia is also attending this 3WCDRR. The Pacific island region is the first to bring together climate change and disaster risk reduction in an overarching framework.