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Statement by the Maldives at the Technical Briefing Session on the Global Assessments of Disaster Risk Reduction: Understanding disaster risk for achieving Sustainable Development Goals in Small Island Developing States

Technical Briefing Session on the Global Assessments of Disaster Risk Reduction: Understanding disaster risk for achieving Sustainable Development Goals in Small Island Developing States

Opening Remarks by:

H.E. Mr. Ahmed Sareer, Permanent Representative of Maldives to the UN

New York, 25 February 2016


Good afternoon Excellencies and distinguished delegates,

First, let me thank the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) for organizing this event. It is an honour to join such an important conversation that obviously has come to the fore again with the Cyclone Winston tragedy that is unfolding in Fiji, even as we speak.

On 19 February the cyclone came ashore as the strongest tropical storm ever to strike the Southern Hemisphere. Damage reports are still coming in as emergency workers continue access remote parts of the island, but we know at least 42 lives have been lost and there is widespread devastation that will take months, if not years to recover from.

Winston is just the latest in a series of natural disasters that have struck island nations across our membership. Rising temperatures driven by climate change have made extreme weather events especially problematic for AOSIS members and underscore the disproportionate risk islands face from disasters.

This reality makes the work of UNISDR and the Global Assessment Reports absolutely crucial to our preparedness efforts and there is already evidence that some of the disaster risk reduction steps taken in the Pacific, including early warning systems, may even have helped mitigate the impact of the cyclone.

As the latest GAR attests, and the Fiji tragedy makes clear, SIDS small size, limited land areas, and remoteness make us extremely vulnerable to impacts that might even seem insignificant to larger countries, such as small tidal surges, water shortages, or coastal erosions.  What's more, rising global temperatures are fueling more frequent and intense weather events, like storms, droughts, and flooding, making our situation even more difficult.

The GAR speaks to an important truth: Every cyclone, every drought, and every flood sets islands back years from reaching their development goals. Disaster risk reduction efforts are inextricable from durable sustainable development.

These events that used to be one in 100 year, 250 year and 500 year events are  now striking our fragile islands with increasing frequency.  We are all well aware of the deep economic impacts disasters have on our economies that rely heavily on the natural riches of small islands – our coasts, our beaches and our ocean resources, such as coral. Issues such as coastal flooding have resulted in effective economic shutdowns which are devastating for small island economies.

It takes years to decades to nurture economies and to achieve sustainable development in small islands.  And we know all of that can be wiped out in a wave.  My country, the Maldives, experienced that during the 2004 tsunami.  And now we are forced to divert funds from building schools and hospitals to building our resilience.  We are doing work to mainstream adaptation into our projects, but obviously this drives up the costs of these projects, but this is the cost we must bear to ensure our development is truly sustainable.

But it is not just the increased costs that present challenges.  Lack of capacity to address these challenges is a well recognized issue that small islands face.

While facing increased costs and capacity constraints, SIDS are also undermined by the categorization of our countries based on values that distort our true progress and undermine our ability to access the support necessary to enhance our resiliency.

In fact, these insights contained in the 2015 GAR fed into key political decisions taken last year in Sendai, Addis Ababa, Paris and of course in New York in the 2030 Agenda.

But we know that our work is far from complete. Our job as SIDS representatives at the UN is to do everything we can to ensure that these agreements are fulfilled and that we maintain coherence across all of the processes relevant to SIDS: disaster risk reduction, sustainable development, climate change, and means of implementation.

I thank UNISDR for this important briefing and I look forward to continuing to work together to build resilience in SIDS.

Thank you.

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