Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, I am extremely honored and pleased to address the opening of “ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Disaster Management” here in Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia. On behalf of the People and Royal Government of Cambodia, I would like to extend our warmest welcome to you all, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Ministers of the ASEAN member countries in charge of Disaster Management, His Excellency Secretary General of ASEAN, and members of the delegations and all the distinguish guests.
This event is organized just right after Cambodian people all over the country has warmly welcomed the coronation of His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihamony, the King of Cambodia.
Today, Cambodia is greatly honored and proud to host this 1st meeting of ASEAN Ministers in charge of Disaster Management. This meeting is held six weeks earlier before the Second World Conference on Disaster Reduction, when the world community will gather together this coming January in Kobe, Japan. I am convinced that this meeting will provide us with good opportunity to review our achievements and identify measures to reduce disasters and to exchange ideas on disaster management at national and ASEAN regional levels. The meeting is for discussion and adoption of the draft documents to manage and timely respond to reduce disasters in ASEAN region and other issues related to disaster management to contribute to sustainable development of ASEAN countries. In this sense, I would like to express my sincere thanks to you all, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, for you presence here in Cambodia.
As we all know that around 75% of the total world population lives within the disaster-affected zones, those areas at least were affected by one of many disasters such as an earthquake, storm, flood or drought during 1980 to 2000.
Almost all Asian nations are facing the threat of disasters everyday. Particularly in Cambodia, around 80% of its territory is lowland areas of the Mekong Basin, this makes Cambodia prone to flooding of Mekong River almost every year, especially during the past 5 years. Furthermore, as a consequence of Elniño phenomena, Cambodian has been more severely affected by droughts than other South East Asian countries.
As a developing country, we are deeply concerned with the increase of natural and man-made disasters in the world, such as storm, flood, global warming, drought, volcanic eruption, earthquake, epidemical disease, environmental pollution, chemical waste, bird flue, terrorism, armed conflict and so on and so forth. In 2004, storms and earthquakes occurred in Japan and the disasters from the storms have claimed many lives and million dollars of losses especially in the United States and Caribbean regions and recently in the Philippines. Even though in 2004, Cambodia did not experience such devastated flood as in 2000 and 2001. In some regions, there were rain flood and storm. One of the main concerns for the Royal Government and people of Cambodia in 2004 is the drought which has threatened hundred hectares of rice fields and livelihood of farmers. Recently, to respond to this issue all ministries/institutions of government, authorities at all levels, armed forces, monks, generous people, firms and general Cambodian people have provided support in terms of work forces, water pumps and fuels to save the rice fields in the areas where the source of waters could be accessible.
This means that flood is not the only disaster that could affect the social welfare and national economy, the drought that occurred in the past and can happen in the future will partly affect living standards and slowdown the economy. It represents a cost to the Cambodian economy as a result of flood and drought and it can undermine the government efforts to improve social welfare and economy. Thus, the Royal Government has to reallocate scare resources from other development activities to respond to the disaster victim needs, for example, through the provision of food, shelter, medicine, other public services and post-disaster rehabilitation. This negative consequence of disasters has been considered as a main impediment to economic development and one of the significant factors contributing to the increase of poverty in Cambodia. In case of no disasters, we would expect a higher accelerated development and rapid poverty reduction and other achievements can be assured. In this regard, we can notice that disaster management is necessary to increase economic growth and free people from poverty.
Based on the above experiences, we can infer that the disaster is highly correlated with human development. The disaster has put development under threats, hindered and slowed down its process and also destroyed its achievements. Why development cannot react to disasters? Why development cannot prevent and reduce destructive impacts on its achievements? In this regard, the development objective is not envisaged only on the expected outcomes, but also, in the development process, there should be plans for reducing the disaster impacts be considered to ensure the sustainability of development achievements, though it requires more resources. In the past, the development options — that is intended for a rapid and forceful development and improved society, ignoring the threats caused by calamities and the importance of disaster management within the development process — all these have resulted in unsecured and unsustainable development. In contrast, such the options could create new disasters or calamities. Therefore, such the options should not be allowed to occur again. I would like to recall that disaster management and reduction is what we have been doing everyday. What is important is that are we clearly determined to our actions and works? Is the quality of works assured? Is the safely be ensured? Do we have a system of preparedness?
On behalf of Royal Government and People of Cambodia, I strongly support the ASEAN principles to manage regional disasters aimed at reducing losses, damages and suffering caused by the disasters, through regional and global cooperation. We in ASEAN have the willingness to help each other in the region during “crisis”, which is of great value that all ASEAN nations should dare to dream about and be confident that it is possible and achievable. With this vision, I believe that ASEAN countries will further exert its utmost efforts in managing and reducing national and regional disasters, thus enhancing sustainable development and transforming the whole region into a safe and secured community which is resistant to and quicker recovers from disasters.
Indeed, the governments have the responsibility to ensure the achievement of this ample objective. However, it is indeed hard and difficult tasks if it is to achieve by an individual, an institution or a country alone. In series of its efforts, RGC has strengthened and enhanced activities related to the management of disasters including the establishment of legal framework, the preparation of structure of the Committee for Natural Disaster Management. This committee is chaired by the prime minister and is a central permanent institution coordinating with government ministries and institutions, United Nation Disaster Management Team, Cambodia Red Cross, international organizations, non-government organizations and international community, in order to prepare for and intervene immediately in any disaster and respond to the rehabilitation needs. The committee has its organizational structure from national to communal levels. This also includes the inclusion of disaster reduction into the National Poverty Reduction Strategy and the opening for participation by all partners in disaster management process. Regionally, the efforts of individual ASEAN country to fight disasters are currently relying only on its own available resources. Because of the limited capacity and resources, we recognize that most of the achievements are at the level of developing countries. To attain better achievement, it requires cooperation among state institutions, national and regional stakeholders including those vulnerable and communities. From now on, the cooperation in ASEAN is inevitable tool for this vital assignment of nations.
In retrospect, disaster prevention management in ASEAN determines its objective of actions to enhance regional cooperation in all type of disaster management including the prevention, reduction of damages, preparedness, responsiveness and rehabilitation by helping each other to reduce negative impacts of disasters to the economies and societies of member countries. I would like to point out some priorities that should be adopted for implementation:
1- Further enhancing working networks and exchange of information based on national, regional and global cooperation and coordination in sharing information in a regular and timely basis, dialogues on measures to prevent danger targets and to improve information management capacity to reduce disasters.
2- Investing three resources — human resource, budget and materials for disaster prevention — by adopting a culture of preparedness and all development efforts require the inclusion of disaster preparedness and prevention and damage reduction. Donors and development aids should be available and commit adequate resources to tackle the occurring disasters.
3- An important objective is for each community to be protected and prepared for any direct affect of disasters. Public awareness is an important factor for country and community affected by the disaster and has a significant role for raising public awareness through media, TV, Radio and newspapers.
4- Helping build capacity and provide resources to member countries in disaster management of having comparable standards.
5- Enhancing the willingness, commitment and responsibility for all national and regional leaders. Building up partnership with donor countries, United Nation Agencies, international organizations, International Financial Institutions, non-governmental institutions on disaster management to ensure the development in disaster management.
In closing, on behalf of ASEAN, I would like to take this opportunity to thank United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination, UNICEF, EU, Japanese Fund, US Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Pacific Disaster Center, Asian Disaster Reduction Center and Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, who have provided financial and technical support for the development of disaster management in ASEAN. Also, I would like to appeal to donor countries, United Nation Agencies, International Financial Institutions, all International Organizations and non-governmental organizations please be more proactive to ensure that disaster management be incorporated into all development works with high responsibility and good governance.
Finally, I wish you all, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, a happy this coming new year, prosperity and success in your future endeavors, and satisfaction and pleasant stay in Cambodia.