Statement by His Excellency Dr. Mohamed Latheef, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Maldives to the United Nations, on agenda item 173 (a) Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations, 14 November
The frequency and magnitude of natural disasters occurring all over the world are increasing at an alarming rate. Those that occurred in the last one year alone stand testimony to this. These disasters have caused immeasurable devastation and taken a heavy toll in terms of human lives and material damage. The sufferings and pains they leave behind are deep and long lasting. The burdens on the individuals, the communities and the countries are enormous. The challenges at national and international levels are formidable.
Natural disasters know no boundaries. They impact indiscriminately on the poor in the South and rich in the North. The harsh weather conditions are felt and experienced by millions of peoples all over the world with despair and pain. However, the level of a country’s development has a bearing on the degree to which these sufferings can be sustained. Small less developed countries like my own suffers more severely due to their weak infrastructure, limited resources and capacity to recover. Although the loss of lives and extent of damage registered in numeric terms in my country in the wake of the tsunami was small compared to the others affected in the disaster, it has now become evident that in economic and relative terms the impact of the tsunami on my country is far worse primarily due to its narrow economic base. More than 62 percent of the GDP was totally destroyed. The speed of development progress that we were blessed with over the past two decades has now been thwarted. Over 7 percent of the population remains internally displaced while a third of the entire population needs help. Twelve islands need complete resettlement while over one quarter of the inhabited islands need rebuilding of their socio economic infrastructure.
As we approach the first anniversary of the tsunami disaster, the country’s situation has not eased. It is now clear that it will take time for the country to regain the level of development progress that it enjoyed before disaster struck.
Resettlement and rehabilitation of the displaced communities remains a daunting task. Providing permanent shelter and rebuilding livelihoods require careful community consultations in order to avoid any involuntary resettlement. This has been one important reason for the slowing down of the speedy implementation of the program as originally foreseen. At the same time, the capacity of the government due to the limited human resources available as well as the logistical difficulties in inter-island transportation are also proving to be major hurdles in the implementation of the recovery and reconstruction programme. Proper training and technical assistance in local capacity building is therefore now a priority for us.
At the same time there is a major funding gap in the national recovery and reconstruction programme. Out of a total of $470 million estimated for the programme, nearly one third is yet to be pledged. It should be noted that the Maldives is the only country experiencing an un-pledged funding gap for tsunami recovery plans. While we express our sincere appreciation to our development partners and the entire international community for the most generous assistance that they have already extended to us, we would like to call upon the international community for further support to help us to bridge this funding gap as soon as possible.
An economy which had grown at an average of 7 percent per annum during the past two decades is now forecast to register a 3 to 4 percent negative growth this year. Rising oil prices, unforeseen tsunami related expenditures and revenue shortfall from tourism sector are creating significant fiscal pressures at an alarmingly high level. As a direct result, for the first time in our history, we are now faced with an acute financial crisis and are forced to appeal for budgetary support from our development partners and other friendly countries. This assistance is in addition to the funding that we require for our recovery and reconstruction efforts.
Addressing the challenges unleashed by natural disasters of such epic proportions require urgent and timely action by the international community in an epic scale as well. Shifting from emergency disaster response to more proactive disaster prevention, risk reduction and mitigation, in our view, will be the key to our success. A more comprehensive and coordinated approach to disaster management needs to be developed. Disaster risk management should become an integral part of long-term development policies rather than ad hoc humanitarian issues. The full implementation of the Hyogo Declaration and the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015, we believe would contribute to this end. We also call on the international community to make every effort to ensure the setting up of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Early Warning System as well as the world wide multi hazard early warning system as soon as possible. My country, the Maldives, pledges its readiness to do all that it can to make this a reality since we believe that such a system will not only save lives in such disasters but also help economies such as that of my country which depend on tourism for their survival to enhance confidence in the industry as well.
The central role of the United Nations in extending humanitarian and disaster relief assistance cannot be over emphasized. The rapid response of the United Nations in the wake of natural disasters, especially the Indian Ocean Tsunami last year was remarkable and deserves much praise and admiration by us all. The critical role that the Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Jan Egeland and his dedicated staff at OCHA are playing is worthy of mention. We believe that further strengthening the rapid response capacity of the United Nations should be a priority for the international community. Only a well staffed, well funded and well equipped system can ensure the ability to respond promptly and effectively. In this regard, the Maldives fully support the proposal of the Secretary-General for improving the Central Emergency Response Fund since we sincerely believe that it would further contribute to the strengthening of the coordination and humanitarian response capacity of the organization.
The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Tsunami Recovery, H.E. Mr. William Jefferson Clinton and his able team has brought a much needed push to the efforts of the United Nations to help the tsunami affected countries. We sincerely thank President Clinton for his untiring commitment to this cause.
Transparency, proper coordination and accountability are crucial for building back better and achieving faster results. In this regard my country is extremely pleased with the work being done by the Global Consortium of the Tsunami Affected Countries, setup by President Clinton. We believe that this important tool will help sustain the political will of the international community to support medium and long-term rehabilitation, reconstruction and risk reduction efforts of the affected countries. We are also happy with the financial tracking system, Development Assistance Data-base (DAD), that is now in place in the region, including the Maldives, and we are convinced that DAD will ensure the much needed financial transparency and accountability and boost the confidence of the donor community and the private contributors.
International efforts in providing humanitarian assistance and disaster risk management need to be supplemented at regional and sub-regional levels as well. Regional cooperation can play an important role in this regard. We are happy to note that in the region of South Asia, which had experienced two of the world’s worst natural disasters in a matter of ten months, the thirteenth Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), that concluded yesterday in Dhaka, Bangladesh, had highlighted the importance of cooperating in disaster preparedness and disaster management and had decided to establish a regional disaster management centre in India. We believe that this centre would boost confidence in the region and help realize the early setting up of an early warning system.
Over the past two decades, the government and the hard working people of the Maldives, with the most generous help from the international community, have transformed the Maldives into a vibrant country. As members of this august Assembly will be aware, just six days before the tsunami struck, this Assembly decided to graduate the Maldives from the list of Least Developed Countries (LDC) based primarily on the performance in development. At that time the GDP of the country was growing at a remarkable rate and our future looked very promising. We were also amongst the few countries that were on track to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
However, now with the devastation caused by the tsunami, our situation has become very difficult. Instead of proceeding with the smooth transition process for graduation we are now tied to the enormous task of recovery and reconstruction. While it is difficult to determine an exact timeframe that would be required to reach pre-tsunami levels, we assure the international community that we will once again with their generous assistance, recover and rebound from this disaster in the shortest possible future and proceed with the graduation process. We are most delighted that the international community had heard our cry for help and had decided to postpone the commencement of the smooth transition period for three years. We understand that the formal decision in this regard will be taken by this Assembly shortly. We sincerely thank the international community, the members here, for the understanding and solidarity that they have extended to us.
The humanity has the power and ability to limit, manage and prevent natural disasters. Ironically, it also has the power to cause disaster too. The tool we need to limit, manage and prevent disaster is the political will. If we can fulfill just this commitment that we have all agreed in the various summits and conferences during the past decade to protect and preserve global environment, to achieve sustainable development and to reduce and eliminate poverty, alone, in our view would make a world of difference, indeed.
I thank you Mr. President.