Magdy Martínez-Solimán: Statement at the launch of the National Risk Atlas of Rwanda

10 Sep 2015

Your Excellency Honorable Minister of Disaster management and Refugee Affairs, Ms Seraphine Mukantabana,
Your Lordship Mayor of Kigali
Your Excellency the Ambassador of the EU, Mr Michael Ryan
My Dear Colleague UN RC and UNDP Resident Representative, Mr Lamin Manneh
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, Mr Antoine RUBEVANA
Dear Colleagues of United Nations of the One UN Country Team in Rwanda
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure and an honor to be here today as we launch the National Risk Atlas of Rwanda. On behalf of the UNDP Administrator, Madam Helen Clark, I would like to thank the Government of Rwanda for inviting us to participate, and commend you for your leadership in prioritizing disaster risk reduction. I also thank the World Bank and European Union, as well as other partners and practitioners, for joining the Government and UNDP to make this initiative a reality. Obscure budget lines are good money, Ambassador, thank you for shedding light on that dark but productive corner of the budget.

To understand the importance of the National Risk Atlas, you have to establish the relationship between disasters and development. What was once seen as a niche concern – disaster risk reduction – has since become a clearer concept of insuring development, making it sustainable, and protecting hard-fought gains against the avatars of climate shocks.

Decades of disaster losses, now estimated at over 2 trillion USD in the last twenty years, have brought home the fact that development gains are too easily exposed to risk. From earthquakes in Nepal to flooding in southern Africa to storms across the Caribbean and in the U.S., we see billions of dollars each year wiped away by natural hazards that could and should be better planned for. It is this lack of planning that is costing us not only money, but actual human lives. The island of Dominica lost 50% of its GDP due to a cyclone.

And the costs of disasters don’t stop at the immediate damages. The 2002 drought in India affected more than half the country, cost over a million days of employment, and shrank the country’s agricultural GDP by 3.1 percent. Hurricane Mitch, which hit Central America and the Caribbean in 1998, is estimated to have set back development by as much as twenty years in the developing countries that were most affected.

Rwanda and the rest of Africa are no exception to this. The flooding in February in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, impacted hundreds of thousands of people. Droughts in east Africa and the Sahel continue to trap millions in poverty and have forced subsistence farmers to seek new livelihoods and support mechanisms. And climate change may mean that these hazardous events could become even more frequent and intense. Rwanda itself, as this Atlas clearly illustrates, is both highly prone and highly exposed to drought, landslides, floods, earthquakes and windstorms. Thunder is specific risk that can be integrated with cost-effective solutions.

How are we expected to maintain progress and eradicate poverty in the face of such a cycle of damage and loss? This question is at the heart of all stakeholders’ efforts. None is so badly hit as the people and communities who see their hard-earned gains so quickly rolled back -in a matter of days, or sometimes hours.

More has to be done to include disaster risk reduction into development planning and community awareness. Every job created, every social service established and every bridge built must have a solid understanding of disaster risk behind. When you lose a farm, you lose more than cattle and crops. When you lose a school, you lose more than a building, you step back in human development and have to start all over again – just to recover.

This brings me to the National Risk Atlas of Rwanda: a tool which represents an innovative professional and credible approach by the Government of this country to undertake a comprehensive mapping and risk-analysis of the nation as the PS has underscored. By first clearly identifying the areas at risk, or those potentially at risk, development decisions can be made to reflect the realities on the ground, and encourage a risk-informed and sustainable development approach. The development of the Atlas is a critical link in the effort to bring together DRR and development, and represents a pioneering initiative on the African continent.

The National Risk Atlas will help the Government and its partners, including UNDP, to gather, present, and disseminate timely and accurate risk information that can be fed into everything from local livelihood support to the building of national infrastructure. Local authorities, for instance, can use the information on flood-prone areas to designate farming zones, Government Agencies and private investors will be able to identify and avoid building in hazard-prone areas, such as those susceptible to landslides. The end result? Better, evidence-based decision making and long lasting infrastructure.
 
The Atlas can also lead to better hazard mitigation measures, including stronger water retention and irrigation methods for drought-prone areas; the introduction of more sustainable approaches to land use planning; and the establishment of early warning systems, contingency plans, and pre-disaster recovery plans in areas at risk. The list of possible uses of this tool is extensive.

At the local level, communities will have the capacity to understand where and how they are at risk, and to take precautionary measures that could mitigate the likelihood of floods or landslides, as well as establish the systems to prepare for and respond to risks, should that prove necessary.

The findings of the Risk Atlas will also help identify climate-vulnerable livelihoods and negative changes in ecosystems. By detecting such issues, policy planners can take the necessary steps to make those livelihoods climate resilient, and help those hazard-prone areas to both adapt to the effects of climate change and reverse the degradation of ecosystems.

The National Risk Atlas of Rwanda affirms that, in order to reduce disaster risk, we need to address existing threats and risks and be prepared for future worst-case scenarios.  This requires a robust monitoring, assessing and understanding of disaster risks, and their integration into development planning and policies.

Looking ahead, allow me to offer four recommendations:

First, development must be risk-informed in the best spirit of the Agenda 2030 of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the findings from the Risk Atlas, as well as from risk-assessments in general, must feed into any and all development planning. National and local development plans and strategies are prime opportunities for this, and efforts should be made to institutionalize the findings and utility of the Atlas.

Second, disaster data must be accessible and useful to all stakeholders, especially those most vulnerable. Consulting with communities, both on the gathering and use of risk data, is critical to the longevity and utility of the Risk Atlas. Not only will communities be best placed to provide critical and historical information, but integrating disaster risk findings into District Development Plans will help build resilience and, in the long-term, save lives and resources.

Third, disasters know no borders neither does knowledge. Disaster risk reduction must therefore be regional and global in nature. The flooding in southern Africa in February is evidence of this, and should be a spur to promote regional support and South-South cooperation “Linking up with similar disaster Management agencies” as Amb. Ryan just said, for wider risk-mapping in Africa. Rwanda has demonstrated vision and leadership in developing the Risk Atlas and there is clearly a role for the country to play in scaling up such efforts. UNDP would happily support such an initiative.

Finally, we must build partnerships with the private sector in support of both poverty reduction and disaster risk reduction. It is a fact that most development is undertaken by the private sector, not by governments alone, and as such, any movement to ensure risk-informed development must include private investors. The data from the Risk Atlas must therefore be made accessible to private sector stakeholders.

Again, on behalf of UNDP, I would like to commend the Government and its Development Partners, the Bank and the EU, without their trust this work would not have been possible, for investing in this long-term approach to disaster risk reduction and to better, risk-informed development. The National Risk Atlas of Rwanda represents inspiring progress, and we look forward to continue working together to make full use of its findings.
MURAKOZE CHANE (Thank you in Kinyarwanda)