Right Honourable Prime Minister, Dr Babu Ram Bhattarai,
Honourable Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Mr. Bijaykumar Gachhadar
Senior Government Officials,
Representatives from NGOs, Civil Society
Colleagues from the Media
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a privilege and honour for me, to be here today, addressing this important occasion— the 14th National Earthquake Safety Day.
I would like to congratulate the Government of Nepal for organizing this event. It helps to reinforce the importance of become better prepared to dal in case of any likely natural disaster. Commemoration of EarthquakeSafety Days in the past has been instrumental in bringing all the actors together to discuss this very important issue.
There is a misconception that disaster risk management or reduction is a technical issue and should be left to technical people to implement. It is not! The issue is multi-faceted— related to governance, economic, social and political issues.
Since my arrival in Nepal, I have been very interested in this issue as the country lies in a seismically active zone, I myself come from a country where earthquakes frequently occur, and I worked in Pakistan in 2005 – 2006 for post earthquake recovery operations. A huge earthquake in Nepal would be catastrophic. More than 100,000 people may lose lives and the development gains of the recent decades maybe lost in one event. Poor construction practices, un-planned and haphazard construction, lack of awareness, absence of compliance and weak enforcement of the national building code and lack of preparedness, all contribute to a high level of risk.
We cannot predict when the next earthquake will strike the country. However we should be prepared for it at all times. Capacity needs to be built at all the levels of Government, schools, private organizations and communities.
In 2009, the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium was created under the leadership of the Government of Nepal and supported by a number of donors to support the implementation of the National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management and to work for the change we need in order to live in a safer Nepal. The goals of the Consortium include safer schools and hospitals, effective flood management, community based disaster preparedness, better land use planning, building code enforcement and building urban search and rescue capacity. Through the consortium, all the different actors in disaster risk reduction have a shared vision and goals, and have been able to speak the same language.
Nepal took a big step forward in 2009 when the Government approved a new National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management and subsequently started work on a companion Disaster Management Act.Unfortunately, two years later, Nepal still doesn’t have a new Disaster Management Act because the legislative process has not been completed. This needs to be finalized urgently so we can start work building the new Disaster Management Authority.
Here I would like to reiterate UN Chief Robert’s Piper’s statement in the Op-Ed of today’s Republica – “The timely approval of the Disaster Management Act will allow us to accelerate our efforts today to save lives and reduce destruction tomorrow.”
I believe that we are making some progress in this field through civil society organisations though a lot remains to be done. There should be a contingency plan, enough equipment and resources mobilized to meet the urgent needs during a crisis situation.
It is encouraging to note that the government, civil society organisations, the Nepalese Red Cross, the donors, the academia and specialised technical and professional associations have recognised their roles and responsibilities and are collectively contributing to reduce earthquake risks in Nepal.
The 18th September 2011 earthquake was a wake-up call for Nepal. It should be a lesson to push the disaster risk reduction agenda forward. With a relatively small earthquake that mainly affected eastern Nepal, the estimated total reconstruction costs by the Government is about $55-60 million. We need to act now to mitigate risks of a mega earthquake and be prepared to lessen the tragedy and costs. We also need to decentralise operational capacity to other districts for an event, where a major earthquake would paralyze Kathmandu.
Today, there is much awareness among the population on earthquake safety. People are demanding earthquake resistant construction technology and capacity building of local masons and builders. Private businesses are now talking about earthquake safety in their factories and are concerned about their business continuity.
Earthquake affects every single citizen. Therefore, we should also know how to react and respond to a major earthquake. In Japan, where I come from, we have regular drills in school and office, organise story-telling in school to recall lessons learnt from the past disasters, and have TV programmes for awareness raising. We also have a very good information dissemination system to inform citizens of an event of natural disasters. Preparedness is not only the responsibility of the government, but there is a lot we, as citizens, can do as well.
For over a decade UNDP has been associated in the disaster reduction area in Nepal – from the time when it began its various community based projects and programmes –in the villages and communities (Chitwan, Sarlahi and Makawanpur districts) where floods and landslides have wiped out lives and property in a matter of few seconds.
Today we are working at the national level to support the government by assisting to construct Emergency Operations Centre at the national and district level and providing technical support.
Finally, I would like to say that UNDP remains committed to stand by the Government of Nepal and the Nepalese people by providing technical support and building the capacity of people to become more prepared. We also look forward to the support of all our partners and stakeholders in this regard. I believe that together we can help to build a disaster resilient Nepal. Preparedness can save lives.