Remarks by UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative on International Day for Disaster Reduction

Oct 13, 2012

UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Barbados and the OECS Resident Representative, Ms. Michelle Gyles-McDonnough. Photo UNDP

Director of the Barbados Department for Emergency Management, Ms. Judy Thomas;

Deputy Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, Ms.  Elizabeth Riley;

Ms. Nicole Taylor, representative from the Ministry of Home Affairs

UN System colleagues;

Specially invited guests;

Representatives of the media

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, we join the rest of the world in celebrating International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR). I thank all of you for coming out, even as we are currently being affected by a strong track Tropical Wave and hope its impact is not too damaging.  But, we all know that we have to do more than hope.  We have to prepare for the multiple hazard impacts to which we are prone in this region and we have to invest in reducing disaster risk, both by making sure our population is knowledgeable, aware and proactive in protecting their own economic and non-economic assets; as well as by taking the concrete action to adapt our way of life, invest in resilient infrastructure, and enforce our laws - our building codes, zoning laws, regulations about beach setbacks, etc. among other actions. 

It is essential that we are especially vigilant in the face of climate change.  Evidence suggests that climate change has changed the magnitude and frequency of some extreme weather and climate events (‘climate extremes’) in some regions already; and climate change will have significant impacts on the severity and magnitude of climate extremes in the future. For the coming two or three decades, the expected increase in climate extremes will probably be relatively small compared to the normal year-to-year variations in such extremes. However, as climate change becomes more dramatic, its effect on a range of climate extremes will become increasingly important and will play a more significant role in disaster impacts.

Additionally, even without taking climate change into account, the science tells us that disaster risk will continue to increase in many countries as more people and assets are exposed to weather extremes.  As a result, we are seeing an exponential increase in the economic losses from disasters, and perhaps also social losses.

When we see such significant and increasing losses, and with the heavy debt burdens and tight fiscal space our governments presently face, we must tightly and responsibly manage our budgets; just as we manage our own household budgets.  We cannot afford to rebuild the same schools and the same hospitals annually, and to keep reconstructing roads damaged by repeated flooding.  Risk reduction must become everyone’s business.  It is everyone’s business.

It is for this reason - the high costs to human lives and livelihoods, to our economies, the losses of our cultural and social assets - that the UN General Assembly designated the 1990s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), and established its successor programme, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), whose mandate is to help the UN System, Governments, private sector and other stakeholders to realise the mainstreaming of DRR into the development process. The IDNDR established firmly the case that disaster risk is a development issue.  This could not have been clearer as SIDS from around the world gathered here in Barbados over the last three days to find the best ways to address loss and damage from the adverse effects of climate change including extreme weather events and slow onset events.  Accordingly, the UN System, with the UNISDR as the  focal point  coordination of disaster reduction and to ensure synergies among the disaster reduction activities of the UN and regional organizations assigns highest priority to DRR - to effective response when disaster strikes; and recovery of the economy and peoples’ livelihoods in the aftermath by strengthening the policy and legislative environment; strengthening institutions as well as the capacities of first responders and other actors in disaster management and response; and through programmes and projects that ensure the safety and resilience of critical infrastructure like hospitals, rapidly restore food production and telecommunications systems, and focuses on the most vulnerable in response, recovery and rebuilding after a disaster, including women and girls who are the focus of this year’s campaign. 

Women and Girls – the inVisible Force of Resilience”, the theme for the International year, intends to acknowledge and appreciate the millions of women and girls who make their communities more resilient to disasters and climate risks.  It also gives us yet another opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the girl child, following on the First ever International Day of the Girl Child which was celebrated yesterday.

Women and children are particularly affected by disasters with studies, including those in the Caribbean, showing that disasters reinforce, perpetuate and increase gender inequality, making bad situations worse for women and children.  The UNISDR Secretariat notes that in the 1995 Earthquake in Japan, out of the 6,402 total fatalities 3,680 or 57% were women.  Similarly, in the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami last year, 13,007 lives were lost, with 54% of these fatalities being women and girls.  In the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, Oxfam reported that up to four times as many women than men died.   

Female livelihoods are also greatly affected after events.  In Grenada, when 90% of the houses were destroyed due to Hurricane Ivan, most domestic workers, the majority being female lost their jobs.  Hotels, which are often impacted, may be forced to send home their staff, most of whom are women.

Meanwhile, the potential contributions that women can offer to disaster risk reduction around the world are often overlooked, and female leadership in building community resilience to disasters is frequently disregarded. These sentiments are reinforced by the UN Secretary-General who recently noted that “women hold up more than half the sky and represent much of the world’s unrealised potential….they are natural leaders; and by Objective 3 of the Millennium Development Goals which calls on Governments and other development actors “to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment”.

The global community and certainly the United Nations recognises that disaster risk cannot be adequately mitigated or managed without understanding and acting on how risks play out on the ground among men and womenIn addition, while instituting gender-sensitive disaster risk reduction is addressed in the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), the 2011 Mid-Term Review of the HFA found it is rarely taken into account when planning activities.

It is for these reasons that the UNDP office that serves Barbados and the OECS in collaboration with UNDP DRR Teams in Cuba and the Pacific Islands, UN Women, and other UN agencies developed a gender checklist in support of existing international frameworks that advocate gender equality.  The checklist is intended to allow practitioners to better focus on the management of and decision making around disaster situations through considering specific gender needs.  This checklist has been launched in the Pacific earlier this year and is scheduled to be launched in the Caribbean at the 2012 Comprehensive Disaster Management Conference in December this year, but I would wish to make available limited copies for your early consideration.

UNDP Cuba and Barbados and the OECS Offices, again with support from UN Women, also collaborated in 2009 on the production of the case studies on Gender and DRR titled “Enhancing Gender Visibility in Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change in the Caribbean.” This activity along with a Gender Advisory committee were realised within the framework of the Caribbean Risk Management Initiative (CRMI) project.  This document sought to make visible the differences between men and women in their ways of experiencing, managing and adapting to risk in the region, in order to advocate for more effective national and regional risk management policies and practices through the incorporation of gender.  We also have some copies of this document for your consideration.

But this is not a UN system effort only as I noted above, and I recognise the strong leadership of stakeholders such as the Barbados Department of Emergency Management and CDEMA, and the strong women within these institutions in leadership and other strategic roles,  some of whom are here today, who have contributed substantially to the field of Disaster Risk Reduction.  We applaud you and acknowledge your contribution. 

To those present here especially our young people, I want to thank you for taking this time to be with us and to share your thoughts with us in word, drama and song.  I hope that you will be our disaster risk reduction champions in your schools and communities.  I trust that just as you will contribute to our understanding here today, you also will see your own knowledge and experience enriched by participating in this commemoration.

Having offered my own thoughts, I would like to take this opportunity to share the words of the UN Secretary-General on this occasion and hope you will be inspired by his words and his examples of leadership and action by women and girls around the word in support of reducing disaster risks.


I Quote:




13 October 2012

"This year’s observance of the International Day for Disaster Reduction seeks to highlight the need for women and girls to be at the forefront of reducing risk and managing the world’s response to natural hazards.

 Across the world, women and girls are using their roles within families and communities to strengthen risk reduction.

In Bangladesh, women organized themselves to prepare for and respond to floods by teaching other women how to build portable clay ovens and elevate houses.     

In South Africa, marginalized adolescent girls have been empowered to help design plans to reduce the impact of drought and severe wind storms.

In the Bolivian Altiplano, indigenous women have consolidated traditional agricultural and climatic knowledge, which resulted in significant reduction of crop losses from hail, frost and flooding.

In Viet Nam, villagers have been introduced to disaster reduction issues through customized radio soap operas that incorporate real-life examples and stories from local women.

And following the tsunami and earthquake in Tohoko region, Japan, women played a central role in re-establishing income opportunities, with a special focus on single mothers.

Such efforts advance understanding of how communities can benefit from encouraging women to take leadership roles in disaster risk reduction, and will only become more valuable as climate change intensifies and as the world struggles to cope with extreme weather and disasters that affect an average of more than 200 million people annually.

On this International Day for Disaster Reduction, let us recognize that, as the theme of this year’s observance declares, women and girls are the “[in]Visible Force of Resilience”.

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