Top government officials from flood-affected countries agreed that investment in disaster risk reduction must be stepped up to protect social and economic assets.
Representatives of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Burma, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, Thailand and Vietnam met at the one-day South-East Asia Flood Risk Reduction Forum organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in cooperation with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the International Centre for Water Hazard and Risk Management (ICHARM). They discussed the lessons from the 2011 flooding in Southeast Asia and ways to make their nations more resilient to future flood risks.
Opening the Forum, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the Executive Secretary of ESCAP, called for faster implementation of regional and national disaster risk reduction frameworks.
She highlighted the relationship between disasters and development, saying: “Hazards become disasters in the absence of development and with inadequate investment in risk reduction. This knowledge-sharing meeting presents us with the opportunity to address gaps in regional and national disaster preparedness, management and response.”
In his remarks to the Forum, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittirat Na-Ranong reiterated the importance of investing appropriately in disaster risk reduction and emphasised Thailand's full commitment to prevent flooding in the upcoming monsoon season.
According to Heyzer, the newly launched Asia Pacific Report on the MDGs shows that countries with the biggest economic and social disparities are those most likely to be off-track to meet their development targets. The impacts of disasters are worst on the least developed communities, but disasters themselves make development more difficult.
The key message emerging from Forum presentations and discussions was that the 2011 South-East Asia floods were a “wake-up call to policymakers, governments, private sector and civil society that there is a gap between rapid economic growth and investment in disaster risk reduction”.
More investment is needed to fill this gap in order to protect social and economic assets from floods and other disasters in the region, in particular for those areas with rapid economic growth.
The solutions must be built on sound scientific and technical knowledge. A balanced approach consisting of structural and non-structural measures could constitute short, medium and long-term interventions. These measures must be implemented at the regional, national and local levels and require strong leadership for their success.
As the causes and impacts of floods extend beyond national boundaries, international cooperation is also an important factor. Regional collaboration, facilitated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations would ensure that a common set of achievable and deliverable regional goals to reduce risk and promote inclusive and sustainable development are put in place and actions to achieve these goals are implemented.
The 2011 South-East Asia Floods affected millions of people with more than one thousand lives lost and damages estimated in billions of US dollars.