Press Release
July 5, 2009


Sen. Loren Legarda, United Nations Champion for disaster risk reduction in Asia Pacific, yesterday appealed to the world's governments to "invest in risk reduction" to save millions of lives and trillions of dollars in annual natural disasters.

Senator Legarda made the appeal during a one-hour worldwide broadcast by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) of the World Debate forum as a media event of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction held in Geneva, Switzerland.

As a panelist in the lively world debate anchored by Nik Gowing, BBC world senior presenter, Loren said that "good governance" was at the center of reducing risks of casualties and damages in natural disasters. She appealed to governments to play an active role in preventing and reducing risks, as well as in reacting to them.

She disagreed with the notion that governments are largely helpless in preventing and reducing risks from disasters.

"I believe that good governance is at the core and essence" of risk reduction , said Loren. She pointed out that corruption in government would divert the funds that would be needed to strengthen buildings and infrastructures, as well as to provide necessary information to potential victims, thus putting populations at greater risk of casualties and damages.

She deplored that the poor in urban as well as in rural areas are most vulnerable to disaster risks because they reside in coastal areas, on the slopes of mountains, on the banks of rivers and canals, and in other areas exposed to earthquakes, typhoons and floods.

She said that governments, especially those of developing countries, should invest in disaster risk reduction by integrating the program in their national budgets and development agenda.

Other panelists in the debate were Arjun Kartoch, Emergency Services Branch, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy's civil protection agency; Edward Borodzicz, professor of risk management at Portsmouth Business School and author of Risk, Crisis and Security Management. Some world leaders who attended Geneva conference also participated in the discussion.

As the first panel speaker, Loren said that the Philippines is visited by at least 20 typhoons a year, as a result of which people are "more prepared, more aware and we do something about it."

She admitted that "it is very difficult to relocate people who live in coastal areas, who live by the foot of mountains, who live in areas where there are denuded forests that could cause landslides, urban settlements, informal settlers and many of them who live under bridges, so even in sides of the canal... the challenge therefore, for us leaders of the nation is to be able to prevent this risk happening."

Gowing mentioned that the Ethiopian famines in the 1980s killed one million people and impacted eight million lives. "The earthquake in China last year was one of many examples of how much still has to be done on preempting, preventing and mitigating the impact of disasters... Rich countries are equally vulnerable like that massive earthquake in the Italian City. "

He asked Loren if risk can be reduced. Loren replied, "Yes I believe, risk can be minimized, risk can be reduced, that is by good governance." She mentioned that in the landslide in Southern Leyte, residents in a village that was entirely buried could have been saved if there was sufficient time to warn the villagers of the impending catastrophe.

Disagreeing with some panelists that nothing much could be done, Loren pointed out that in China, the government had invested $3 billion in flood control, averted $12 billion in property losses, aside from saving tens of thousands of lives.

"Not just China, but there are many other countries whose government, whether local or national, must look at risk capital as an investment not as cost, meaning that if you, invest $5 here it is actually an investment compared to losing $50. Risk reduction must be a part of a budgeting of the mainstream in the development agenda," said Loren.

Reminded of a study stating that Metro Manila is in danger of a big earthquake that would cause more than 150,000 billion dollars in damage and displace three million people, Loren said that the Filipino people have been aware of this for a decade and that government officials are planning on how to meet the prophesied disaster.

"The picture of a politician handing out rice, canned goods, saving people, is a thing of the past or becoming the thing of the past. And, they [the people] actually blame the government and the leaders for not administering well, for not implementing environmental laws. So, it is about time that we invest in risk reduction and the people will notice that all life is better," said Loren.

"Community participation, information education and communication all play a part. School children must be taught what to do in the event of an earthquake. Contractors, builders must know what kind of structures to build. Local governments must be made accountable and the national government must provide the funding to minimize risks by building better infrastructures, roads, bridges and hospitals," said Loren.

The international and national communities must collectively exert efforts to reduce disaster risks, Loren added.

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