Ladies and gentlemen

A very warm welcome to this edition of the Open Forum for Partnerships. Allow me to recognize the presence of [the Chair of the LDC Group, Ambassador Asmat Jahan and the Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, Ambassador Dessima Williams].

Let me, at the outset, convey the apologies of the High Representative, Mr. Cheick Sidi Diarra, who was very much looking forward to being part of this morning’s discussion, but had to travel on official engagements.

As you are aware, the Open Forum for Partnerships was established in 2003 to provide a platform for United Nations agencies and other development partners to share experiences and perspectives with Member States on issues affecting the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.
This morning, we are privileged to host the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, one of the key partners of LDCs, LLDC, SIDS and, of course, the United Nations System.

Allow me to introduce Mr. Trygve Nordby, Under-Secretary-General, Humanitarian Diplomacy at the International Federation of Red Cross, and Mr. Maarten van Aalst, Associate Director and Lead Climate Specialist at the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre.

Today, we are being presented with the World Disaster Report 2009 on the theme “early warning, early action”. As the international community grapples with the challenge of climate change and the disasters associated with it, the call to early warning and early action couldn’t be more pertinent.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned, droughts, floods, storms and heat waves are set to increase, in both frequency and severity. People in the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries will be the most affected. The Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States and Africa face a particularly high risk. With early warning and early action, thousands of lives can be saved, vulnerability reduced and resilience strengthened.

Early warning and early action can prevent a potential disaster from becoming an actual disaster. Unfortunately, effective early warning systems are still not an integral part of disaster management and risk reduction, especially in the poor countries where resources and expertise are limited. Early action, in this context, demands assisting such countries to develop the capacities needed to manage and to reduce disaster risk.

One couldn’t argue with the approaches to early warning and early action suggested by the World Disaster Report 2009.

If we ever needed any reminding of the devastating effects of catastrophes on ordinary peoples’ lives, the recent financial, food and energy crises have provided it. The question is whether we have learnt to listen enough to the people affected. Are the victims of disaster afforded a powerful voice to influence their own destiny? The most vulnerable are often also the first responders in times of crises and should be empowered to have the capacity to protect themselves and others. A people-centred approach to early warning and action is therefore indispensable.

Equally important is the community-based approach. If working together as a community to solve problems is important, it is even doubly important in the face of a potential or real disaster. Linking early warning as a system to community-based early action is therefore crucial. Unfortunately, the importance of local knowledge about early warning signs has not always been seen as complementary to technical warnings.

The example cited by the World Disaster Report 2009, of communities in Mozambique being able to judge the magnitude of a potential flood by observing the colour of the river water and the type of debris floating downstream, is quite instructive. It shows that not all early warning systems have to be technically sophisticated and expensive. It is incumbent upon humanitarian and development actors to harness such knowledge for early action.

The multi-hazard approach recommended by the report reminds us of the importance of looking beyond the highly-reported big disasters to recognize that small disasters like localized floods and landslides can have a detrimental and long-lasting impact on the community.

These are practical suggestions that we, as humanitarian and development actors, can take on board as we strive to work with communities to strengthen resilience to natural and man-made hazards. I believe that the World Disaster Report 2009 is an important contribution to our collective understanding of how to better manage risk and make communities better prepared to respond.

Thank you for your attention.