Statement by:

Maldives on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)

at the Disaster Risk Reduction and Human Security: Effective Responses to Strengthen Resilience, Protect and Empower People in Response to Natural Disasters.


17 March 2015

Thank you for the kind introduction and let me say it is a privilege to have been asked to speak on a topic that is increasingly relevant to our work as an international community and one that we delay action on at great peril.

Indeed, the past few years alone have witnessed a startling increase in the cost of natural disasters, with consecutive annual losses in excess of $100 USD billion worldwide, not including uninsured impacts or the incalculable human toll in lost lives and suffering.

And while it goes without saying that many of the triggering events are impossible to predict or control, it is well within our power to better prepare communities for crisis before it strikes and rebuild stronger in its wake.

Few disasters more graphically illustrate the tragedy of an unmitigated disaster more than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which suddenly killed hundreds of thousands of people across thousands of square miles. The Maldives was also struck by the deluge, which flooded most of our islands and killed 80 people. More than 15,000 people were displaced and countless livelihoods disrupted. Damages were estimated at some 80 percent of our GDP.

The tsunami is an extreme case, but almost exactly decade later another incident demonstrated its lingering effects. On 4 December last year, a fire at our capital island Male’s only desalination plant, knocking out drinking water to its 100,000 inhabitants. Our groundwater has been contaminated ever since the tsunami receded and with no freshwater source, the prospect of another crisis drew near.

Fortunately for us, our closest neighbors, and friends immediately came to our aid, bringing emergency water supplies. But in addition to illustrating the unique vulnerabilities Small Island developing States face, these examples leave in their wake important questions about ensuring human security in an emergency.

Broadly, human security is defined as the freedom from fear and the freedom from want, as well as the opportunity of individuals to enjoy their rights and fully develop their human potential. But who is responsible for ensuring an individual’s human security?

Clearly governments have a central role to play, however in a globalized world many threats to human security cannot be overcome by one nation acting alone. This is clearly the case for SIDS. To a large extent, our human security demands collective action from the international community.

And nowhere is this truer than with climate change, which has increased the risk for disasters, including tropical storms, floods, food and water emergencies, public health crises, and made the impacts far more severe when they do strike in the very countries least responsible for the problem.

Human security is not a new concept, of course, it is one of the foundational principles behind the modern social welfare state, and has guided much of the benevolent efforts to alleviate suffering in a host of catastrophes around the world.

But in a world with more people and greater risks for disaster, and as the objective of this session suggests, the international community has significant work ahead of us to establish how the concept of human security can be used to achieve the reality of human security in the developing world?

To be sure, important work has been done. A 2010 report from the U.N. Secretary General proposed using human security as an analytical framework for addressing complex and crosscutting problems. The power of the approach is its versatility in analyzing a broad range of problems. More innovative proposals have been raised at this meeting and I look forward to having a rich exchange on the issue today. From the perspective of SIDS, I’d like to call attention to some pitfalls I have witnessed firsthand as a representative of this group.

First, we need to avoid allowing the concept of human security to supplant or erode established human rights and fundamental freedoms or a state’s responsibility to protect those rights.

Second, the concept of human security should serve to enhance existing initiatives rather than leading to a proliferation of new ones.

Finally, we must always strive to address the root causes of a problem. For example, more resources are desperately needed for disaster planning, community-based adaptation and mitigation plans, and facilitating the transfer of information and technology. This work is absolutely essential, but we should not let it obscure the fact that many disasters, and attendant human suffering, will only get worse if we fail to lower the greenhouse gas emissions driving the crisis.

We are in new territory when it comes to ensuring freedom from fear and want in the face of complex challenges: More people and greater demands for fewer resources, coupled with a startling increase in the frequency and intensity of disasters, means we need to develop innovative solutions. Disaster risk management with enhanced recognition of the human security dimension of relief must be translated into a more systematic approach to disaster risk management that will make tomorrow’s world a safer place.

Thank you.