H. E. Ambassador KENZO OSHIMA
Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations
On disaster relief assistance and special economic assistance
18 JANUARY 2005
First of all, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies and condolences to the victims and their families of the December 26 th tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean. I wish to reiterate Japan's solidarity with the countries affected by this unprecedented tragedy and express our sincere respect for the tremendous relief efforts their governments and people have deployed to cope with this extremely dire situation.
I wish to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to all UN agencies and their aid workers who are providing assistance, day in and day out, under extremely trying circumstances, to people in need of help in the many countries affected. Under- Secretary-General Jan Egeland and his OCHA team in particular are doing an outstanding job coordinating humanitarian assistance and helping raise funds from the international community. The concerted international response, both public and private has been truly remarkable.
For its part, Japan, itself a highly natural disaster-prone country, has been providing assistance in every way it can, by mobilizing its personnel, assets, its knowledge and expertise, and, providing financial support.
With respect to deployment of personnel, we have sent to the affected region several civilian disaster relief teams to provide emergency relief, medical and other assistance to the devastated areas in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Japan has also mobilized assets of its Self-Defense Forces for maritime search and rescue operations, air transportation, epidemic prevention, and medical treatment.
To date, Japan has pledged US$500 million as the immediate grant contribution, and in response to the UN Flash Appeal that looks at support over the next six months, Japan will complete disbursement this week of US$ 250 million, half of this grant contribution, which will be allocated directly to UN agencies, funds and programs, and other international organizations that are engaged in relief and rehabilitation. This $250 million will comprise about 25% of the Flash Appeal launched by the Secretary-General in Jakarta twelve days ago.
Moreover, Japan, as a fellow Asian partner, will provide the remaining half of the US$ 500 million pledged to the most severely affected Asian countries, notably Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, through bilateral grant aid, and this bilateral assistance will also be disbursed immediately. I join the Secretary-General in appealing to other countries that have pledged assistance to implement their pledges as quickly as possible.
Tsunami is a term that derives from an old Japanese word that means "harbor waves" or "port waves." It suddenly crashes down on a harbor after going undetected on the high seas. To prevent or mitigate damage and suffering that tsunamis can cause after a massive earthquake, an early warning system is critically important. After the painful lesson of the tsunami disaster caused by the huge earthquake that struck Chile in 1960 in which crashing waves as high as twenty-five meters swept down on that country and, hours later impacted the beaches of other countries in the Pacific rim, including parts of Japan, the International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific was established under the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and a round-the-clock monitoring and warning system was created.
Today, January 18 th , as we speak, the UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction has just opened in the city of Kobe, Hyogo, Japan, where, you will remember, there was a severe earthquake that struck the city and killed over six thousand people ten years ago. One of the lessons from the recent tsunami tragedy is the need for an early warning system for the region. Japan has proposed a special session at the Kobe conference that will be dedicated to the discussion of the establishment of a tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asian region. We hope that a concrete plan of action will be agreed upon at this session so that the concerned countries in the region, with the support of the international community, will begin their work for a reliable mechanism of early warning. ISDR, UNESCO and other relevant agencies working together with the donor community should play a key role in such efforts, building on the experience and expertise gained in the Pacific Ocean early warning system. In this effort, Japan can and will contribute significantly in providing the necessary knowledge and expertise that it has acquired through its own experience over the centuries with many earthquakes and tsunamis. In addition to a financial contribution of US$ 4 million to ISDR for promoting international cooperation in this area in close collaboration with UNESCO, Japan stands ready to cooperate with the UN, other interested donor countries, as well as coastal countries directly concerned.
It is a stark fact that nearly 75 % of the world population live in areas that have experienced at least one serious natural disaster event of one kind or another - earthquake, typhoon, cyclone, hurricane, flood, drought - over the past twenty years. Billions of people in over 100 countries are known to suffer periodically from the effects of natural calamities. Everyday, on average natural disasters claim the lives of close to 200 people around the world. In 2003 alone, 700 natural hazards resulted in 75,000 deaths and economic losses of more than US$ 65 billion. Thus unmitigated natural disasters not only take high human tolls but also destroy economic and social infrastructure and set back development, particularly in developing countries, which in effect constitute threats to human security. They impact particularly severely on the poor, either a country or a population in a country, by exposing and augmenting vulnerabilities. They adversely affect in no insignificant way our fight against poverty and hunger and diseases.
Despite this stark reality, natural disasters are unfortunately underestimated by nations and by the international community including the UN system. Not enough attention has been paid to the importance of disaster reduction, and not enough political will has been mobilized, particularly in addressing the impact of natural disasters on development. If awareness of the need for an early warning system is one lesson learned from the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean, another lesson that should be learned is the need to enhance the political will to cope with natural disasters by incorporating, for example, disaster prevention and mitigation in national development planning. Natural hazards cannot be prevented but damages caused by hazards can be prevented and avoided by proper preparedness, response and mitigation efforts. This point is strongly emphasized in Japan's Initiative for Disaster Reduction through ODA, which was announced by Prime Minister Koizumi on the occasion of the World Conference on Disaster Reduction. The amount of Japan's ODA in the area of disaster reduction has been at the highest levels among donors, with US$ 300 million in FY 2003. Based on this Initiative, Japan will continue to actively support the efforts of developing countries to build a "disaster-resilient society" through a comprehensive menu of assistance such as institution building, human resources development and infrastructure development.
As the Secretary-General has emphasized, support from the international community to help the disaster-stricken countries should not stop at immediate relief, however important that is. Given the magnitude of the disaster, assistance for rehabilitation and reconstruction will need to be provided for the long term. The international community must sustain strong political will to this end. Japan stands firm in extending the maximum possible assistance to rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts as well as the immediate relief. I sincerely hope that the outpouring of compassion and the unity of purpose shown from around the world will help strengthen international cooperation and resolve to address the many problems faced by the world community, including disaster prevention and reduction, climate change, and a development strategy that incorporates disaster reduction, all with a view to opening up a new vista of the future.
Thank you very much, Mr. President.