Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

OPENING SPEECH
by
He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
at the

Workshop on reducing food insecurity associated with
natural disasters in Asia and the Pacific

27 – 28 January 2005




Distinguished guests and participants
FAO colleagues
Ladies and gentlemen


Good morning.

First of all, on behalf of the FAO Director-General, Jacques Diouf and on my own behalf, I welcome all of you to the FAO Regional Office.. It is a great pleasure for me to address this Workshop on reducing food insecurity associated with natural disasters in Asia and the Pacific, organized by RAP.

Natural disasters cause immense suffering and loss of life every year, and can have a devastating long-term impact on food production. Agriculture is the most important and possibly the oldest industry in the world. It employs about half of the world’s workers and utilizes about one third of the world’s land area. However, in the aftermath of disasters, repairing damaged infrastructure, compensating for personal loss, and rehabilitating the landscape consumes resources that could otherwise be devoted to improving nutrition levels and food security.

Natural disasters can have a cumulative impact, causing successive loss of resilience in both the environment and society. The frequency of natural disasters is increasing, perhaps due to a combination of climate change and population pressure leading to the occupation of hazardous or marginal land. On average, each year about 100 000 people are injured or killed in Asia by natural disasters, and over four million people lose their homes. These numbers comprise, respectively, around 59 percent and 86 percent of the average world totals.

These facts are just the tip of a widespread and growing concern, symptomatic of current early warning and response systems not properly working or not fully operational in many areas.

The recent tsunami tragedy experienced by many countries in the region clearly demonstrates the destructive capacity of natural disasters, and their impact upon food security. As of today, the immediate loss of life from this event exceeded 227 000, with the confirmed toll still increasing. According to early impact assessments, agricultural and fishery losses have been severe. For example, in Tamil Nadu state of India, 59 000 fishing vessels have been destroyed, affecting the livelihood of nearly 700 000 fishers as well as their families. In Aceh province of Indonesia, income losses in agriculture and fisheries make up more than one-third of total losses due to the disaster, while in the worst-affected districts of Sri Lanka, 80 percent of fishing vessels have been destroyed or seriously damaged.

In response to this tragedy, FAO has reacted swiftly, recommending practical actions both for addressing immediate emergency needs as well as for longer-term measures to reduce the risk of similar catastrophes, and providing advice drawn from its collective experience and expertise. We will continue to work in association with many sister agencies of the United Nations family, non-governmental organizations, civil society and national governments in an effort to address long term rehabilitation issues to reach the goal of food security for all.

Cheap energy, scientific breakthroughs in plant genetics and pesticides, better infrastructure and well developed early warning systems as well as communication systems helped create a disaster-resilient rural communities in many developed countries. The impact of natural hazards in agricultural sector is usually localized; shortages can be offset by transporting surpluses from unaffected areas; and because this sector usually comprises a small part of the economies of developed countries, losses are minor in proportion to gross domestic product.

By contrast when natural disasters strike subsistence farming, nomadic herding and shifting cultivation communities in developing and least developed countries the consequences are frequently long-term, deadly, and large in relation to gross domestic product. When we consider loss of infrastructure, the time required for re-stocking, and the consequences of lower income and nutritional intake over long periods, natural disasters in agriculture may take years even generations to rectify, while damage and losses may exceed average GDP.

FAO endeavors to help farmers reduce risk and optimize responses to climate variability and adapt to climate changes, extreme weather events and geological hazards. FAO promotes sustainable agricultural practices, including contingency planning, integrated and dryland farming, integrated coastal zone management, micro-storage of seed and feed; building mounds and shelters, improving irrigation systems, agro-ecological zoning, development and selection of more resilient plant and livestock varieties.

It is thus timely, at this workshop, for you to ask: “What can be done to ‘mainstream’ sustainable agricultural practice into national development and disaster management programmes? What are the priorities for new projects based on sustainable agriculture?

One important development in disaster management philosophy over the past decade has been the recognition of its cyclical nature. Although the response phase captures most of the attention, much of the hard work of disaster risk management is carried out before disasters occur, in the form of risk assessment, prevention, mitigation, and establishing early warning systems. After the crisis of emergency response has passed, the emphasis is on rehabilitation, reconstruction, and the commencement of a new cycle of assessment, incorporating lessons derived from the previous cycle.

Best practice in disaster management has in many cases been codified into guidelines, laws and regulations. Specialist organizations of the United Nations, including the World Food Programme and FAO have developed such codes, as have global initiatives such as the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. Some countries in the region have incorporated their national agricultural emergency management systems into legal frameworks. Other countries have not yet completed this task. It has been recognized that building a resilient society is the key and, thus, preventive measures are essential. Building codes, land use regulation, watershed management and flood control schemes, forest and soil conservation, coastal zone development, pesticide use, etc. are just a few areas where rules and regulations are required or need reinforcement.

On this theme of guidelines and laws, I invite you to consider the following questions: “Are existing guidelines and protocols for coping with agricultural impacts of natural disaster clear and sufficient? If not, how can they be improved? Are responsibilities clear between non-governmental organizations, local communities, and the various levels of government?

The October 2004 report to the United Nations’ Second Committee noted that early warning systems are fundamental to prevention and to minimizing losses due to natural hazards. Over the past three decades enormous progress has been made in early warning systems for typhoons, and the death tolls from these events have been dramatically curtailed. However more effort is required by the scientific community as well as by governments and international organizations, in the case of tsunamis, floods, forest fires, landslide, earthquakes and volcano eruption.

For the creeping menace of drought, there appears to be strong potential, at least in some geographic areas and climatic zones, for significant improvements in food security through relatively simple measures such as formulating long term seasonal outlooks for national policy makers as well as end users in the agricultural community.

The Global Information and Early Warning System, GIEWS, and the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System, FIVIMS, have sought to integrate socio-economic data with food availability and crop condition statistics, climate data, pest information and weather conditions. These approaches offer great strengths for systematic and geographically widespread advanced warning of food insecurity and famine as a result of disasters.

In relation to the theme of early warning systems, I ask you to consider “Are new mechanisms such as Regional Specialized Centres required to enhance warnings for transnational disasters such as tsunamis, forest fires, floods and drought? What are the highest regional priorities for better data collection and warning dissemination in relation to agricultural disasters? What is the region’s optimum role in strengthening food insecurity information systems such as GIEWS and FIVIMS?”

Ladies and gentlemen,

The overarching task we are attempting is to halve the number of malnourished by 2015. Despite an overall increase in the world’s wealth and scientific capacity, this remains a daunting proposition and it will require all our individual and collective efforts. Strong partnerships and efficient sharing of responsibility will be essential for success. In this regard the preparation of this workshop has already resulted in the identification of key potential information resources, centres of excellence in research and training, and you, the able and dedicated individuals attending today.

I urge you to consider whether it is advisable to rely on existing institutional arrangements, or whether indeed it is timely to strengthen or refresh them in the collective interests of task sharing and efficiency.

Ensuring access to food for the hungry and poor will persist as a major challenge within the strategic time horizon of the UN Millennium Development Goals and the World Food Summit Plan of Action. We know that the resources that will be available to attempt these tasks are limited. For this reason it is imperative that priorities are clearly defined and resources are directed where they are most capable of achieving the desired results. Methodologies for assessing need, both in terms of emergency response requirements as well as for longer-term risk mitigation, are therefore essential.

The convergence of spatial and socio-economic models, data mining and visualization has generated advances in our ability to delineate risk in terms of the geographic distribution of natural hazards. There is also a growing appreciation that Small Island Developing Countries exhibit more acute vulnerabilities to disasters than most other nations.

We have also come to recognize the importance of financial incentives and policy instruments for reducing food insecurity caused by natural disasters. These instruments include schemes for crop insurance; microfinance for re-stocking and re-planting; and at the national level, structuring development loans or grants in such a way as to encourage governments and communities to build disaster-reduction and risk mitigation measures into their disaster response programmes and national development plans.

I ask you to carefully consider this accelerating trend, and to determine “What economic incentives can be applied in disaster risk management to encourage preparedness and build resilience? Are there opportunities for ‘mega-projects’ which bring long-term growth as well as reducing the risk of agricultural disaster?”

Ladies and gentlemen,

In considering these pressing issues, we are conscious of the unique character, needs and trends of the Asia and Pacific region. We are also cognizant of the global commitment to diminish the baleful impact of natural disasters upon human society. Last week, in Kobe, Japan, the second World Conference on Disaster Reduction was held, not far from the epicenter of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. This conference was the culmination of the International Decade of Disaster Reduction and the development, by an Inter-Agency Task Force including representatives from 26 bodies of the United Nations, regional organizations and civil society, of a coordinated international strategy. The main conclusions and outcomes of that World Conference will be presented at this workshop and your efforts over the next two days will form part of this regions’ response to and engagement in that strategy. FAO is thus meeting the needs of the countries of the region for policy guidance and capacity building in natural disaster management for improving food security in the face of increasingly frequent natural disasters.

I thank you for assisting the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific to develop an actionable strategy to implement the thematic programme – reducing vulnerability to disasters – one of the priorities identified in the Regional Strategic Framework for Asia and the Pacific for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the World Food Summit Target.

I wish you successful and fruitful discussions.