Launch of the Global Assessment Report by UNISDR


Remarks by H.E. Mr. Ahmed Sareer, Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Maldives to the United Nations

United Nations, New York, 4 March 2015

H.E. Mr Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, Ms Margeret Wahlstrom, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, H.E. Mr Gustavo Meza Cuadro, Permanent Representative of Peru to the UN, Mr Andrew Maskrey, Lead Author of the Global Assessment Report, UNISDR, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good morning.

When the people of the Maldives woke up on 26 December 2004, little did we know that the azure blue waters that surrounded our island homes would soon engulf us completely, killing more than 80 people, flooding 1181 of our 1190 islands, displacing more than 15,000 people, and resulting in damages estimated in the order of 83% of our national GDP.

Ten years later, when the more than 100,000 citizens of Male’, the island capital of the Maldives,  started their day on 4 December 2014, they could have never imagined that a single fire, in one part of the capital, that impacted the sole producer of desalinated water suitable for drinking, would lead to a water crisis for the whole island.  The capital found itself without continuous running water for the next 4 days, despite being surrounded by the vast blue seas; potable water had to be flown in from other countries.

These incidents serve to remind the world of the high risk Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as the Maldives, face due to our small size, limited land areas and remote locations. A relatively small tidal surge or a temporary water shortage that might seem insignificant to some countries, can affect a very large proportion of our populations in very significant ways. The Report before us attests to that.

We are pleased that the UNISDR has concluded this valuable work, at this most opportune time. This year is a landmark year, when we will adopt the follow up to the Hyogo Framework for Action, and review the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development.  We will adopt the post-2015 Development Agenda, encompassing the Sustainable Development Goals, and later converge in Paris to agree to a Paris Protocol that will unite the global community in efforts to reduce the emissions that threaten the survival of many SIDS, and provide support for essential adaptation efforts. The Global Assessment Report serves as a reminder that without addressing risks, we cannot move ahead towards sustainability. The Report underscores the links between all these processes: disaster risk reduction, sustainable development, climate change, and the means of implementation.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has continuously warned of increases in the severity of extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts and floods, due to climate change. The Panel has continuously issued dire warnings, that climate change will change economies, health and communities in diverse and severe ways. It has been predicted that billions of people face shortages of water, and food, with greater risks to health and life as a result of climate events. Developing countries are of course more vulnerable to these climate change impacts, as we have fewer resources with which to adapt, physically, socially, technologically and financially. And SIDS continue to remain as one of the most vulnerable group of countries due to our unique circumstances.

Climate change has changed the fate of our small nations for the worse. We, SIDS, contribute the least to the problem- taken together we 40-some countries represent less than 1% of global emissions- yet we are set to face the biggest losses from the effects of climate change. These effects include sea level rise and associated flood and storm surge hazards, increasingly intense cyclones, coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion into our coastal aquifers and worsening water scarcity and drought. This means impacts on every aspect of our lives, on our development, and to the extent on our very existence. Food security, water resources, human health, ecosystems, and the economy are all at stake and human security and conflicts are more prominent. While the degree of risks varies based on climatic and non-climatic factors, scientists have proved that human and natural systems are threatened with continued warming.

Small market size, and limited diversification of markets make the economies of SIDS extremely vulnerable to disasters - both natural disasters and man-made disasters, such as those we now face from the impacts of human-induced climate change. Unlike other countries, in SIDS, disasters reverberate across the whole country, amplifying effects and intensifying damage.

In the case of the tsunami the Maldives experienced in 2004, as I mentioned, the loss to the Maldives economy was estimated at 83% of our total GDP. The entire country was affected, with islands on the east suffered the most due to the direction of the waves. In 2004, the Maldives was a country ready to transition to middle-income status. But just a few minutes turned everything around. As a result of the flooding, of hundreds of our islands, salt water destroyed crops and made the ground inhospitable for future agriculture.  On some islands, the waves passed through from one end to the other, leaving great havoc and fatalities in their wake. Our graduation from LDC status was delayed as our economy felt the biggest shock it had in years. It took ten years to rebuild what the tsunami destroyed that day. And even then, for many, nothing is the same.

The experience of the tsunami and its devastating impacts may unfortunately be a sign of things to come.  With increasingly severe extreme weather events on the rise and predicted for the future due to the impacts of climate change, the damage to SIDS' economies may well be catastrophic. The tragedy will be further magnified as nearly all of the many countries that have graduated or are in the process of graduating from the list of Least Developed Countries are SIDS. Due to forces beyond our control,  many SIDS now find ourselves threatened by reversals in development, and development gains, without the recognition and support afforded to LDC countries and with little or no ability to impact the emissions that directly affect our fate.

This is why SIDS have continuously asked for reconsideration of the criteria used to assess development. GDP per capita measures fail to adequately recognise the extreme vulnerability SIDS face to environmental shocks. They fail to take into account the total impact of disasters - both natural and man-made, such as climate change.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

SIDS have continuously refused to remain victims. We have taken on the challenge and we are working on making our island countries more resilient. But this is a global problem that requires a global solution.

For SIDS our biggest challenge remains the means of implementation: technology development and transfer, capacity building and provision of adequate financial resources. And this is where we hope that the Financing for Development Conference will adequately deliver the means of implementation, to deliver the very ambitious Post-2015 Development Agenda.

It is our hope that in this journey of advancement, in this drive to become the generation to eradicate poverty, no one gets left behind: especially the most vulnerable.

Thank you.