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Speeches & Transcripts

Disaster Risk Reduction through Climate Change Adaptation

October 26, 2010

John Roome, World Bank Sector Director, Sustainable Development, East Asia and Pacific 4th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction Incheon, Korea, Republic of

As Prepared for Delivery

Honorable Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea Your Excellency Hwang-sik Kim, Your Excellency Jigmi Thinley Prime Minister of Kingdom of Bhutan, the Mayor of Incheon Metropolitan City Mr. Young-Gil Song, and United Nations Assistant Secretary General, Margareta Wahlstrom, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is an honor to represent the World Bank in this Plenary of the 4th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

At the outset, I would like to thank our hosts the National Emergency Management Agency, Korea and the City of Incheon for the excellent arrangements and warm hospitality. As a partner of this Conference, I would like to express the commitment of the World Bank to the implementation of the Incheon Regional Roadmap on Disaster Risk Reduction through Climate Change Adaptation and we look forward to a strong partnership with NEMA on this. To this end, the World Bank and the Government of Korea will sign a memorandum of understanding later this year to provide a framework for a longer term partnership with Asian governments.

The theme of today’s plenary; “Disaster Risk Reduction through Climate Change Adaptation” could not be more timely and relevant. We live in a region that suffers greatly from the impacts of natural disasters. In 2009, six of the ten countries with the highest mortality rates and GDP losses from natural disasters were in Asia. 82 percent of all lives lost in disasters since 1997, are in countries represented here. Poorer countries are affected disproportionately by disasters and the effects of climate change, both in terms of loss of life and property. This also reverses the core development goal of poverty reduction. The United Nations’ 2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction estimates that low income countries carry about one-eighth the global risk of tropical cyclones but sustain four- fifths of the mortality risk. More than others, poor people pay for disaster with their lives.

Climate change, coupled with unprecedented rates of rapid urbanization, makes the potential impacts of disasters much worse. The frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters has quadrupled in the past two decades. According to OECD estimates, Asia is home to six of the ten most vulnerable cities in terms of exposed population. If additional measures are not put in place in Bangladesh, for instance, the damages from a single severe cyclone is expected to rise nearly fivefold to over $9 billion by 2050, affecting the poorest households most. In Vietnam’s Mekong River Delta, an expected sea level rise of 30 cm by 2050 will result in increased seasonal inundation and salinity intrusion of over 300 thousand ha of paddy fields leading to a 13% decline in rice production. In East Asia and the Pacific one major driver of vulnerability is the large num¬ber of people living along the coast and in low-lying islands—over 130 million people in China, and roughly 40 million, in Vietnam.

What does this mean in real economic terms? A World Bank Study on the Economics of Climate Change estimates the cost of adapting to an approximately 2°Centigrade warmer world by 2050 is in the range of $75 billion to $100 billion a year and East Asia and the Pacific Region will bear the highest adaptation cost.

Responding to this challenge starts with improving our disaster risk reduction capacity. This will require new models of cooperation and coordinated policy responses across multiple sectors, agencies and ministries; and a new set of policy instruments for decision-making under deep uncertainty. Indeed, initiatives on disaster risk reduction provide the only evidence-based foundation for adaptation action.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the development choices we make today will impact the outcomes of disasters tomorrow, whether it is safer schools and roads, better land use planning or financial planning and improved policy frameworks. We can take action today that will reduce loss of life and economic assets tomorrow.

So what should be the priorities for action? The about-to-be-released joint UN-World Bank Economics of Disaster Reduction report has four main messages that are relevant in this regard:

  • Governments must provide adequate infrastructure and other critical services most needed during disasters.
  • Governments must make risk information widely accessible so communities can prepare and respond to risks.
  • Governments must permit markets to work, particularly for land and housing.
  • Good institutions must develop to permit public oversight.

Given the rapid rates of urbanization in Asia, particular attention must be paid to city-level policies and actions. Cities can reduce climate and disaster risks by:

  • Breaking the nexus between urban poverty, informal settlements and disaster risk reduction through community driven development programs
  • Promoting sound land-use supported by robust local risk assessments 
  • Investing in Early Warning Systems 
  • Making risk information widely available so communities and businesses can prepare for disasters

This highlights why it is vital that the upcoming UN climate conference in Cancun achieves concrete outcomes. While the World Bank Group is not a party to the negotiations, it is deeply concerned that without progress on climate change, progress on global poverty reduction will be undermined. To that end, we are actively working with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and client countries, including in EAP to help create the building blocks of an eventual global deal, and to demonstrate on the ground that successful action is possible today.

I would like to close with a brief overview of how the World Bank is responding to the challenges posed by climate related disasters in multiple ways:

First, through analytical work: The Bank is making disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation a strategic priority in country assistance strategies. Analytical and advisory services for disaster risk management include a study of the impact of climate change on major Asian coastal cities in partnership with JICA and the ADB.

Second, through investment activities: The World Bank has financed post-disaster recovery and reconstruction as well as ex-ante disaster risk reduction/climate adaptation projects: an average of 20 disaster-related projects per year has been approved since 1984.

Third, through financial services: Here, the World Bank, through GFDRR, is emerging as an integral part of the evolving global climate adaptation financing architecture. From sovereign risk to community-based insurance schemes, a range of new tools are helping to offset the financial cost of disasters. In Mongolia, the World Bank approved a US$ 10 million scale up of the highly innovative Index Based Livestock Insurance Project.

In all of these activities, we value our strong regional partnerships with ASEAN, SOPAC, ADRC and ADPC. I would like to acknowledge the strong support for our activities from the GFDRR, the Pilot Program on Climate Resilience, the Global Environment Facility and others.

Thank you Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, I wish you good progress with your deliberations.