FEATURE: ‘Grandpa Oyster’ offers example of sustainable ocean business
30 May 2017 Shigeatsu Hatakeyama’s oyster farm was completely destroyed by the deadly tsunami that hit north-east Japan in March 2011.
“I thought to myself my business was over,” says 74-year-old Hatakeyama, who is known as ‘Grandpa Oyster,’ a nickname given by the schoolchildren in his environmental education programme.
To his surprise, however, the conditions conducive to oyster farming in Kesennuma Bay came back quickly. He believes the recovery can be attributed to the tree-planting movement he and his fishing community initiated decades ago in the upstream of Okawa River that flows into the Bay.
Mr. Hatakeyama is the president of the non-profit organization “Mori wa Umi no Koibito” (The forest is longing for the sea, the sea is longing for the forest), whose activities focus on reforestation and environmental education. He was also one of the recipients of the UN Forest Hero Award in 2012.
Ahead of the United Nations Ocean Conference, Mr. Hatakeyama spoke with UN News and explained how the forest environment is interlinked to marine production.
UN News: What led you to start the reforestation movement “The forest is longing for the sea, the sea is longing for the forest?”
Shigeatsu Hatakeyama: The movement started in 1989. Oysters grow in areas of brackish waters where a river meets the sea. You cannot grow oysters just with salt water. Fresh water is necessary. For instance, Hiroshima, a well-known oyster production site, has brackish water areas at the mouth of the Ota River. Okawa flows into Kesennuma Bay, where our oyster farm is situated. Nutrients from upstream forests that a river carries raise phytoplankton, which oysters feed on.
Shigeatsu Hatakeyama speaks to participants at a tree-planting festival. Photo/Mori wa Umi no Koibito
About 40 years ago, a red tide occurred in the bay. Red tide is caused by human activities on the land side. It does not come from offshore. A shell of oyster inhales 200 litres of water a day. The body of oysters turned red and they were called ‘blood oysters,’ which were not sellable in markets and had to all be disposed of. This incident was the starting point for our fishing community to launch a campaign to regain the blue sea.
I also had a first-hand experience that deepened my understanding of the link between forests, rivers and the ocean
I also had a first-hand experience that deepened my understanding of the link between forests, rivers and the ocean. One day, a French scholar visited a research facility in the Kesennuma area. At her invitation, I visited France, a country known for oyster farming. I was very impressed with a variety of seafood produced in the estuary of Loire. There was a huge forest of deciduous broad-leaved trees along the river. I rediscovered the link among forests, rivers and the ocean. A good forest raises a good ocean.
The academic world is vertically divided. Forest, river and sea are placed in different academic fields. There were few scholars who can elucidate the relationship between forest, rivers and the ocean in a holistic manner. American scholar John Martin discovered that plankton does not grow in some waters that lack iron. The sea becomes anaemic if iron is not provided. I found that Hokkaido University professor Katsuhiko Matsunaga was also saying that forests grow a rich ocean. His research gave scientific justification for our movement of planting trees upstream of rivers. Dams stop the flow of iron into the ocean.
Farmers usually do not take the ocean into account when they grow crops. If inhabitants in the river basin do not think about the seas, oyster production sites will vanish.
Oysters growing in Kesennuma Bay. Photo/Mori wa Umi no Koibito
UN News: What impact did the East Japan Great Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 have on your oyster business?
Shigeatsu Hatakeyama: It was beyond an impact. A 20-metre-high tsunami brought complete destruction and I lost everything, from boats, aquaculture rafts and other equipment like refrigerators. Honestly, I thought to myself ‘my business is over.’ All living creatures disappeared. But by May (about two months after the disaster), living beings started to re-emerge. When a Kyoto University research team came, I was eager to know the status of plankton in the bay as there was speculation that the sea was dead. A member of the research mission said: ‘Mr. Hatakeyama, please rest assured. There are more plankton than oysters can eat.’
Hearing that, I was convinced that I could revive my oyster farming business. The researcher attributed the quick comeback of the sea’s condition to the forests upstream. This experience proved the legitimacy of our reforestation movement. In the following year, I received the UN Forest Hero Award.
UN News: As a recipient of the UN Forest Hero Award, what kind of outcome do you expect from the UN Ocean Conference to be held in June?
Shigeatsu Hatakeyama: Research on the relationship between the ocean and forest is progressing. As you know, waters off Japan’s Sanriku Coast form one of the world’s top three fishing grounds. In fishery high school, I was taught that the condition for the fertile waters was created by the collision of Black and Parental currents. But new studies suggest that the forests – five times larger than Japan’s land – around the Amur River, which runs along the border of eastern Russia and northern China, produce iron that does not oxidize. The Amur carries this type of iron into the Sea of Okhotsk, and iron flows via the Bussol Strait of the Kuril Islands into the northern Pacific Ocean, where the Sanriku fishing ground is situated.
Overview of floating oyster farms in Kesennuma Bay. Photo/Mori wa Umi no Koibito
It has become clear now that the source of iron in the waters off Japan’s Sanriku Coast is the forests in the Russian-Chinese border. Many fishery and ocean experts are expected to participate in the UN Ocean Conference. But it is meaningless to hold the meeting if they forget to discuss the link between the forest and the ocean.
It is important to teach children how forests, rivers and the ocean are connected
UN News: Please share your thoughts about the importance of human resource development and youth education.
Shigeatsu Hatakeyama: If you don’t share the values with people living in the river basin, the sea will get contaminated. This is not a matter of natural science but a problem created by humans. It is important to teach children how forests, rivers and the ocean are connected. We started educating children one year after our reforestation movement began. We planted trees not only in the mountains, but also in the minds of boys and girls. We have educated more than 10,000 children.
UN News: How do you feel about being nicknamed ‘Grandpa Oyster?’
Shigeatsu Hatakeyama: I could not use water for two months after the 2011 tsunami. My beard grew unkempt and I probably looked like Colonel Sanders, the founder of the Kentucky Fried Chicken fast-food chain. Elementary school children enrolled in our on-site environmental education programme started calling me ‘Grandpa Oyster.’ Now at 74, I feel I have reached an appropriate age to be called a grandpa.
Shigeatsu Hatakeyama teaches children about environmental conservation. Photo/Mori wa Umi no Koibito
UN News: What kind of contributions does your movement make to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
Shigeatsu Hatakeyama: Because I am just a fisherman, I cannot say big things. But I say this. The four major civilizations in the world originated in river basins. Civilization will perish if you destroy the river basin environment. In Japan, 35,000 rivers are flowing into the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. However, many river basins are sick. This is not sustainable. We need to restore the original condition. When the ocean gets better, you can reap more fish for sushi. Then, sushi prices will go down. So, it’s good for food security and for the economy of the local communities.
UN News: What is your dream?
Shigeatsu Hatakeyama: My father started our family’s oyster business. My three sons are now running it. If my grandson, who is in high school now, succeeds, our business will have lasted 100 years. This is sustainability to the letter, isn’t it? If the river basin environment is preserved, a sustainable life will continue even in remote seaside areas. I hope to prove that and continue communicating these linkages through my real-life example.
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Climate action 'a necessity and an opportunity,' says UN chief, urging world to rally behind Paris accord
30 May 2017 Highlighting the seriousness of the impact of climate change on the planet and its inhabitants, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today called for sustained action to meet the global challenge and to ensure a peaceful and sustainable future for all.
“The effects of climate change are dangerous and they are accelerating,” Secretary-General Guterres told a gathering of students, business leaders and academics at the New York University Stern School of Business.
“It is absolutely essential that the world implements the Paris Agreement [on climate change] – and that we fulfil that duty with increased ambition,” he underscored, recalling the ground-breaking agreement that entered into force last November.
The Agreement calls on countries to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future, and to adapt to the increasing impacts of climate change.
It also aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change and calls for scaled up financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity-building framework to support action by developing countries and the most vulnerable countries in line with their own national objectives.
Science ‘is beyond doubt’
Underlining that science behind climate change “is beyond doubt,” Mr. Guterres said:
“As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it: ‘Human influence on the climate system is clear. The more we disrupt our climate, the more we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts,’” he said, recalling that global temperatures have been rising, year after year, and that that last year was the hottest on record.
Furthermore, there are fears that the melt of sea ice and glaciers due to rising temperatures will have deep and far reaching impact: droughts and dry spells will last longer, while natural disasters like floods and hurricanes will be even more destructive.
Impacts of these catastrophic events, Mr. Guterres noted, would be felt in all corners of the world and in all sectors of the economy.
Informing of his intention to convene a dedicated climate summit in 2019 to reach the critical first review of implementation of the Paris Agreement, the UN chief called on all, including those who might hold divergent perspectives on climate change to engage with him on the way forward.
VIDEO: UN Secretary-General António Guterres issues call to action to meet the global climate challenge during an address to students, business leaders and academics at New York University.
Green business is good business
He also pointed to the opportunities that climate action can provide, such as through the creation of jobs and increased economic growth. It is thus, not surprising, that many private corporations, including major oil and gas companies have adopted climate action.
“They know that green business is good business. It is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do,” he highlighted.
Five-point action plan
Laying out a five-point action plan to mobilize the world for climate action, the UN chief underscored that he will intensify political engagement with countries to increase efforts to limit temperature rise to well below 2 degree-Celsius and as close as possible to 1.5 degree-Celsius, the first point.
He also said that he would engage more with Governments and major actors, including the coal, oil and gas industries, to accelerate the global transition to sustainable energy, and committed stronger support by the entire UN development system to Governments as they strive to meet climate commitments and achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially at the country level.
“That is where true change will be achieved,” he said.
The UN chief also said that he will work to with UN Member States mobilize national and international resources for adaptation, resilience, and the implementation of national climate action plans, and called for new and strengthened partnerships, including with the private sector and through North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation.
Further in his remarks, the Secretary-General cautioned that failure to act on combatting climate change would in turn harm the countries themselves for their inaction.
“Those who fail to bet on the green economy will be living in a grey future [but] those who embrace green technologies will set the gold standard for economic leadership in the twenty-first century,” he said.
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Sri Lanka: UN agency deploys rapid assessment teams to assist in wake of monsoon floods, landslides
30 May 2017 According to Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre (DMC), the South Asian country is combating floods and mudslides in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Mora, while the United Nations Migration Agency (IOM) today deployed three rapid assessment teams to the most affected districts, where some 177 people have died and 109 remain missing.
Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “deeply concerned by the devastating impact caused by Cyclone Mora on Sri Lanka and Bangladesh,” adding that the UN stood “ready to scale up its support to the government-led response efforts in both countries.”
Since heavy rains on Friday, most of the deaths were caused by landslides.
In a press statement, IOM maintained that while its teams travel to the four worst-hit districts of Ratnapura, Galle, Matara and Kalutara – in the south and centre of the country – the Government indicated that over 768 houses have been destroyed and 5,869 partially damaged while 80,409 people were temporarily displaced to 361 safe locations. More than half the displaced are located in Rathnapura district, where more rain is forecast today.
Sri Lanka’s National Building Research Organization also issued warnings of further landslides in a number of districts, including Kegalle and Ratnapura, where IOM provided shelter assistance to flood and landslide-affected communities last year.
In recent weeks, over half a million people in 15 districts of the country’s south and central regions have been affected by abnormally heavy monsoon rains.
The flooding is believed to be the worst since May 2003, when a similarly powerful monsoon from the southwest destroyed 10,000 homes and killed 250 people, according to IOM.
“When the rain has eased on Sunday and Monday, rescue workers used the break in the weather to deliver much-needed aid to the worst-hit areas. But many villages remain inundated and cut off from basic services,” said the UN’s migration agency.
Rescue operations led by the Sri Lankan military are continuing and the DMC has already identified an urgent need for drinking water and non-food relief items, including shelter.
Sri Lanka’s Health Ministry is also deploying mobile health units and will introduce vector control measures to combat expected outbreaks of mosquito-borne dengue fever, which often follows flooding. Displaced people living in emergency shelters are particularly vulnerable.
The Sri Lankan Government has appealed for international assistance and, according to media reports, three Indian naval ships carrying relief supplies arrived in Sri Lanka on Saturday and Sunday. China, the United States and Pakistan have also provided assistance.
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FEATURE: UN-backed projects in the Caribbean highlight connection between life on land and life below water
26 May 2017 The vital role of the world’s oceans in human well-being and development is being highlighted next month as the United Nations hosts a global conference aimed at protecting these resources.
Conserving the marine environment is among the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seek to achieve a more just and equitable world for all people and the planet by a deadline of 2030.
The ocean is vital to us because we are a small island developing State
SDG 14, Life Below Water, and the Ocean Conference, to be held from 5 to 9 June, has particular resonance for countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, a twin island nation in the Caribbean, according to Rissa Edoo with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in the capital, Port of Spain.
“The ocean is vital to us because we are a small island developing State. Most of our resources are along our coast and most of our industry is also along our coast, so it is very important for us to understand the connection between life on land and life under water.”
Ms. Edoo is the National Coordinator for the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, which has funded more than 100 projects since 1995.
Among the recipients is Nature Seekers, a non-profit organization that has become a model for marine conservation in the Caribbean over the past 27 years.
The group is based in Matura, a fishing village on Trinidad’s north-east coast, where nesting leatherback turtles were being slaughtered for their meat. Today, the 2,000 residents proudly protect the female sea turtles that come to the local beach every March through August to lay their eggs.
Leatherback turtles are the largest turtle species on Earth and can grow up to seven feet long and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Esther Vidale, Project Director at Nature Seekers, described them as a “keystone species” in the marine environment.
“The leatherback turtles’ primary food source is jellyfish and they really keep the jellyfish population in check by eating their weight or more in jellyfish per day. And jellyfish feed on small fishes or fish eggs. So by keeping the jellyfish population in check through the leatherback turtles, we have a thriving fishing industry so that fisherfolks who use this as their livelihood, persons who just want to enjoy seafood cuisine, and all the industries and persons that are impacted by the use of fish, can now benefit: both in the ocean, and us as man as well.”
VIDEO: Nature Seekers, a community-based conservation group in Trinidad and Tobago, has played a key role in protecting leatherback turtles since 1990.
When Nature Seekers began in 1990, up to 30 per cent of leatherback turtles that made it to Matura Beach were being maimed or killed by poachers.
Suzan Lakhan Baptiste, the group’s Managing Director and driving force, recalled that the beach once resembled a “graveyard.”
“I live in the community and when I went out onto the beach I saw all these huge turtles with just all the eggs in the stomach, with just a few pounds of shoulder meat missing. I remember seeing turtles with chops all over and no part thereof missing. And I said ‘I have to be a part of doing something and curbing this,’” she stated.
Since then, Nature Seekers has educated the village of Matura about the importance of conservation and showed how the turtles are a resource that can enhance livelihoods.
Residents have been trained as guides to patrol the beach to monitor the nesting leatherbacks which are tagged, measured and weighed, thus contributing to global research on the species.
Matura has become an eco-tourism destination as the group also works on issues such as forest management and sustainable livelihoods, emphasizing what Ms. Edoo called “the ridge-to-reef connection.” Visitors can also purchase beaded bracelets, necklaces and other trinkets made from glass bottles collected during beach clean-ups, marketed under the brand Turtle Warrior.
Today, the greatest threat to the leatherback turtles lies in the water as they can get entangled in fishing nets as bycatch, a term used to describe species caught inadvertently during commercial fishing.
Through UNDP, Nature Seekers is exploring alternative fishing methods such as using Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) which allow trapped turtles to escape from nets.
Leatherback turtles are the largest turtle species on Earth, growing up to seven feet long and weighing as much as 2,000 pounds. Their name comes from the soft shells on their backs. Photo: UN News/Lulu Gao
Esther Vidale, Project Manager at Nature Seekers, monitors a leatherback turtle that has just laid her eggs. Leatherbacks are critical to marine eco-systems as they help keep jellyfish populations under control, thus contributing to the availability of fish stocks. Photo: UN News/Lulu Gao
Residents and volunteers remove countless bottles during the annual clean-up held on Matura Beach prior to the start of turtle-nesting season. Nature Seekers says making the beach safe for both people and turtles has spurred a means to turn “trash into cash” by recycling the bottles to produce jewellery and other products. Photo: UN News/ Lulu Gao
The glass bottles collected during the beach clean-up are recycled into beads which local women string into bracelets, necklaces, anklets, keychains and other items sold under the brand Turtle Warrior. In this way, women who may not be able to participate in Nature Seekers’ turtle patrols can also contribute to conservation efforts. Photo: UN News/ Lulu Gao
Meanwhile, people on the sister island of Tobago are also working to preserve the stunning environment that surrounds them. For example, community-based organizations located in the north-east are being empowered in co-managing natural resources.
The region is rich in diverse eco-systems, with coastal communities bracketed between the Main Ridge Forest Reserve – the oldest on record, according to the UN cultural agency (UNESCO) – and the Caribbean Sea.
Neila Bobb Prescott, of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is Chief Technical Advisor for a national project funded by the GEF covering six sites throughout the country.
“(In Tobago) The site that we are trying to improve management to is the North East Marine Tobago area, which is the home of the biggest brain coral in this part of the world,” she said.
“We have just concluded studies showing that we have two species of endangered sharks there and the studies show that we have juvenile species, so there may be other reasons to pay attention to these areas.”
For the past three years, the Environmental Research Institute Charlotteville (ERIC) has been supporting area residents in making informed decisions about their future through taking an active role in contributing to natural resource conservation.
ERIC is another recipient of the GEF Small Grants Programme.
Aljoscha Wothke, the group’s Director and CEO, said their activities include providing eco-diving training to a handful of local fishermen who then check and monitor reefs and sharks.
“And at the same time, we train them to be community communicators because we believe that in small communities, people trust the people they grew up with much more than if they get messages from somewhere outside or messages that are dropped on them,” he added.
Fisherman Welldon Mapp (left) has been working with the Environmental Research Institute Charlotteville (ERIC) in its three years of operation. The group supports communities in north-eastern Tobago to co-manage natural resources, including reefs. Mr. Mapp, 25, also engages with people in his hometown, Charlotteville, to get them to think about issues that have an impact on the natural environment such as climate change and overfishing. Photo: UN News/Lulu Gao
Welldon Mapp is an example of this bottom-up approach.
The 25-year-old fisherman, “born and grown” in the fishing village of Charlotteville, is also an ERIC communicator, engaging his peers and neighbours in discussions on topics such as how climate change impacts on their livelihoods.
He believes the messages are getting through.
“You have dive boat operators changing from running the engines on all day to switching them off while they have customers. You have the football coach asking students that came in late to practice to bring a plant to plant around the football field to enhance their community. So people are changing slowly,” he stated.
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With focus on natural disasters, UN risk reduction forum opens in Mexico
25 May 2017 Opening a major United Nations conference on risk reduction in Cancun, Mexico, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed cautioned that the world would not reach its development goals without tackling climate change and disaster risk.
“Human and economic losses from disasters cannot continue at current levels if we are going to progress with the Sustainable Development Goals,” the Deputy Secretary-General said at the opening on Wednesday evening.
Held every two years since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to discuss disaster reduction, the 2017 Global Platform – the fifth such event to date – is bringing together some 6,000 Heads of State, policy makers, disaster risk managers, civil society and other participants.
This is the first international summit on disaster since the Sendai Framework, which was adopted in 2015 in the northern Japanese city after which it was named, and consists of seven targets and four priorities for action that aim for the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.
Last year, 445 million people were affected by disasters linked to natural hazards worldwide including floods, storms, earthquakes and drought, 8,000 people lost their lives and direct economic losses from major disaster events were estimated at $138.8 billion.
The World Bank estimates that the real cost to the global economy from disasters is $520 billion per year and that they push 24 million people into poverty annually.
“The challenge is how we are going to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) if annual economic losses from disasters can wipe out the entire GDP of a low income country overnight and force millions from their homes,” Ms. Mohammed said.
VIDEO: UN Deputy Secretary-General emphasizes the need to implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in order to reduce mortality, economic losses and damage to infrastructure
She noted that Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and the Pacific, have all agreed and adopted plans to implement the Sendai Framework “with a clear focus on shifting the paradigm from managing disasters to managing disaster risk.”
She emphasized that this is vital in order to progress on key targets of the Sendai Framework including reducing mortality, reducing the numbers of people affected by disasters, reducing economic losses and reducing damage to critical infrastructure – all points that are also integral to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Earlier in the day, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Robert Glasser, welcomed participants and said he hoped the gathering would provide “great momentum” to efforts to make this a safer and more resilient world.
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UN resilience ‘scorecard’ to help cities curb disaster losses from climate change, other risk drivers
23 May 2017 As world leaders and civil society representatives gather today in Cancun, Mexico, for a biennial United Nations forum on preventing and mitigating disaster impacts, the UN today launched an updated plan to increase the number of cities and towns with the capacity to reduce their disaster losses by 2020.
Announcing a major revision to its Disaster Resilience Scorecard, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) said the changes bring the mechanism into alignment with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the global plan for reducing disaster losses.
It is a major boost to the goal of having more strategies in place at local level for reducing disaster losses from climate change and other risk drivers. This is a key area of focus this week at the UN’s biennial Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction where the Scorecard was launched today. Plans are in place to have 200 cities using it by the end of the year.
“National governments have the primary responsibility of implementing the Sendai Framework working with many stakeholders, and the Scorecard is a valuable support to this work at the local level,” pointed out UNISDR chief Robert Glasser.
UNISDR noted that the revision was undertaken by its private sector partners, American firms AECOM and IBM, with the support of the European Commission and USAID. It follows a pilot project undertaken by 35 cities that are members of the UNISDR Making Cities Resilient Campaign which comprises over 3,500 cities worldwide.
Ms. Kathy Oldham, Head of Civil Contingencies and Resilience Unit, Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, of the United Kingdom, commented that: “using the Disaster Resilience Scorecard gave us the opportunity to broaden and deepen our understanding of resilience, bringing together partners from across the city region in conversations to explore the different issues the Scorecard highlights.”
Other cities that participated in the pilot included Yogyakarta, Indonesia; Islamabad, Pakistan; Hong Kong, China; Geneva, Switzerland; Quito, Ecuador; and Kisumu, Kenya.
Losses due to disasters from natural and man-made hazards including floods, storms and the impacts of climate change are mounting and on average cost governments over $300 billion globally each year.
The Scorecard provides a set of assessments that cover the policy and planning, engineering, organisational, financial, social and environmental aspects of disaster resilience. Designed to be led by local government authorities, the Scorecard aims to assist in monitoring and reviewing progress in the implementation of the Sendai Framework.
The Scorecard is a free self-assessment tool to be used by cities or local government agencies.
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INTERVIEW: Achieving global development goals ‘inconceivable’ without reducing disaster risk, stresses UN official
23 May 2017 Over the years, disasters – including earthquakes, floods, droughts and cyclones – have not only taken a heavy toll on human lives, but have had an immense impact on development efforts owing to the enormous economic losses resulting from them.
According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), disaster risk reduction is an integral part of social and economic development, and is essential if development is to be sustainable for the future. In 2015, for example, there were nearly 350 reported disasters, over 22,000 deaths, 98.6 million people affected, and $66.5 billion in economic damage.
“It’s inconceivable that we’ll achieve the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] if we don’t get a handle on reducing disaster risk, including climate risk,” Robert Glasser, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, said in an interview with UN News.
It is for this very reason that more than 5,000 participants, including policymakers and disaster risk managers, are meeting at the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun, Mexico, this week to discuss how to curb economic losses from disasters.
Established in 2006, the Global Platform is now the world’s foremost gathering of stakeholders committed to reducing disaster risk and building the resilience of communities and nations.
UN News: Why is there a need for the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction?
Robert Glasser: Well we’ve seen over the past decades a huge impact of disasters on economic and social development. Not only have millions and millions of people lost their lives in disasters, but the economic cost of disasters in terms of foregone development opportunities has been absolutely enormous.
Just to give you an example, for less developed countries, the average annual loss of disasters equates to something like over 20 per cent of their annual investment in social expenditure, in things like education and healthcare. So it’s a huge cost, conservatively estimated at something like $300-400 billion a year. So this conference on reducing disaster risk is a huge priority if we’re going to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Not only have millions and millions of people lost their lives in disasters, but the economic cost of disasters in terms of foregone development opportunities has been absolutely enormous.
UN News: You just mentioned the huge economic costs. What are the key factors that increase economic losses from disasters and how can these be mitigated.
Robert Glasser: I think there are two main factors that increase the economic costs. The first is economic development that is poorly risk-informed… as an example, building hospitals in flood zones. As the economies around the world develop, as more and more infrastructure is built in areas that are susceptible to hazards, when these hazards strike, the damage goes up and increases. So economic development that is poorly risk-informed is clearly a cause of the escalating costs.
The second factor is climate change, because we’ve seen over time the frequency and severity of hydro-meteorological disasters or hazards has been increasing dramatically over the past decades – exactly what you’d expect from climate change. And of course, these disasters, whether they’re extreme weather events, sea-level rise, drought, all of these factors are elements of disaster risk and of course are contributing to the escalating costs.
UN News: What steps can countries take to reduce their disaster losses and what can the international community do?
Robert Glasser: Well one thing the international community could do is probably the most critical… reduce greenhouse gases as quickly as possible because if climate change continues unabated, then our efforts to reduce disaster risk in other ways will be overwhelmed. So number one, reduce greenhouse gases.
The second thing that countries need to do is to incorporate risk in core economic planning so that we don’t end up building this estimated $50 trillion of new investment in infrastructure over the decades ahead… we don’t end up building this infrastructure in ways that are contributing to risk, the hospital-in-flood zone example. And that means looking at both particular investments to reduce risk but more generally risk-proofing as much as possible all of the investments to deal with multi-hazard risk, including climate risk. So those are steps that need to happen as a matter of priority if we’re going to reduce the economic costs of disasters.
… if climate change continues unabated, then our efforts to reduce disaster risk in other ways will be overwhelmed.
UN News: Who will attend the forthcoming Platform?
Robert Glasser: We will see parliamentarians. We will see mayors. We will see civil society; people with disabilities; the private sector has a fundamentally important role to play in disaster risk reduction and they’re extremely motivated to participate. I mentioned $50 trillion of new investment in infrastructure. Well over 75 per cent of that will be private sector investment, not government investment. So if we’re going to reduce economic costs, the private sector has an absolutely fundamental role to play. So we’re expecting 5,000 people, maybe more, in Cancun, Mexico, for the Global Platform and each of these groups will have a really fundamental role to play, including leaders and heads of State.
UN News: Is it just a platform for exchanging ideas? If not, what is expected to be achieved?
Robert Glasser: I think if this is just a platform for exchanging ideas, it’s not worth it to have a meeting like this. One of the wonderful things about disaster risk reduction is that it is an extremely practical agenda and actually it has achieved a lot, even over the last ten years in terms of reducing loss of life from disasters, from the Hyogo Framework and now to the Sendai Framework. But this meeting is not about just exchanging ideas, although that’s important.
This meeting will identify, will launch the monitoring framework for this global agreement and the seven targets member States have agreed to. There’s a whole process to monitor implementation, the global accountability for continuing to improve or reduce disaster risk. It will also include major commitments through the leaders’ forum, heads of State, heads of industry, private sector and others. It will include some major initiatives, including a major initiative on multi-hazard early warning that UNISDR is working on with the WMO [World Meteorological Organization] and our colleagues at the World Bank to launch.
And it will involve the science and technology community initiatives, and I mentioned the private sector a moment ago, and there’s a very fundamental role for the private sector where they are quite enthusiastically and dramatically looking at some major initiatives, including in the insurance sector, but in the other areas as well to reduce disaster risk. So this is very practical, it’s extremely important… and it will deliver some really significant economic outcomes that will continue the progress in reducing disaster risk.
UN News: Are there some examples of best practices that countries around the world might want to learn from?
Robert Glasser: There are so many wonderful examples and you know this is one area where it’s not necessarily the wealthy countries that have the best examples. Many of the examples are in less developed countries. You know people talk about the limitations of least developed countries and developing countries to move agendas forward but if we take Bangladesh for example, they have made such huge progress in reducing disaster risk through early warning, evacuation, storm shelters. There were some major cyclones that struck Bangladesh decades ago that resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being killed. There was a recent, relatively recent storm track and people were killed and the headline was, “hundreds of people killed.”
A family along with their cattle and possessions stranded atop small islands formed due to massive floods, Sindh province, Pakistan. Photo: IFAD/EPA/NADEEM KHAWER
A pastoralist in northern Somalia, a region hit hard by drought. He lost almost half of his sheep flock that originally numbered 70. Photo: UNICEF/Sebastian Rich
Rescuers at work in Sankhu, a particularly badly affected town in northwestern Nepal. Photo: Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi/UNDP Nepal
Low income households along riverbanks prone to floods in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo: World Bank/Farhana Asnap
But the actual headline should have been, “hundreds and thousands of people weren’t killed” because that was the progress that has been made. So there are wonderful examples in Bangladesh. In India they’ve dramatically improved the early warning for disasters; in Mexico, during Hurricane Patricia, they evacuated millions of people. We’ve seen that in other countries as well.
There are wonderful examples in the Pacific. This is maybe another example of best case – we have the Pacific Island countries agreeing to integrate disaster risk, climate risk and development into one framework which is world class, not surprising given that small and developing States are particularly exposed to hazards and climate change. So it depends what you look at but there are many examples of best practice, and not just in the wealthy countries. Actually, developing and less developed countries have made wonderful progress and have much to share with even developed countries.
UN News: In the broader context of the Sustainable Development Goals, what is the relevance of disaster risk reduction for achieving the SDGs?
Robert Glasser: Well, I think for me it’s very hard to imagine achieving the SDGs without reducing disaster risk, and climate risk as a fundamental part of disaster risk, because as I’ve mentioned, these costs of disasters, the economic costs – you know $3,4,5 billion, we actually don’t know the annual costs because we just don’t have the data comprehensively, particularly for lower level disasters that are not as visible in the media and so on – but those costs are going up dramatically.
So it’s inconceivable that we’ll achieve the SDGs if we don’t get a handle on reducing disaster risk, including climate risk. And similarly, another way of looking at this is to say, if we look at our humanitarian emergencies that are increasingly destructive and costly and you see that the international community is struggling to allocate funding to deal with these, if all we do is react, we will never be able to meet the need. I think this is why Secretary-General António Guterres focuses on prevention, prevention of conflict and prevention of disaster risk. The only way we will ever get ahead of this curve is by focusing on prevention. And disaster risk reduction has huge returns on investment and ultimately will reduce the need for humanitarian response.
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On Day for Biological Diversity, UN says tourists must protect nature that draws them
22 May 2017 Tourism must not undermine the nature that attracts tourists in the first place, said the head of the United Nations-backed treaty on biological diversity, marking International Day for Biological Diversity.
“Tourism grows, so does the risk of harming the environment […] It will be important therefore such developments do not undermine the very natural beauty that draws tourists in the first place,” said Cristiana Pasca Palmer, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in her message for the Day, which this year is celebrated under the theme Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism.
Many natural areas with rich biodiversity, such as beaches, coasts and islands, mountains, rivers and lakes, are popular tourism destinations. Roughly half of the leisure trips taken globally are to natural areas, she noted.
It is therefore important to understand that the way tourism is managed will impact biodiversity and conversely, the way ecosystems are managed will impact the sustainability of tourism, as tourists will not come to polluted or degraded destinations.
The Convention was adopted on 22 May 1992 as the international legal instrument for “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” that has since been ratified by 196 nations.
In 2010, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 22 May as the International Day for Biological Diversity.
In his message for the Day, UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary General Taleb Rifai said: “Together we can make tourism an ally in fighting loss of biodiversity and achieving the Global Goals for a better world.”
In that regard, UNWTO is encouraging more destinations to set up sustainable tourism observatories, he said.
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has also been working with all its partners to explore pathways for ensuring the long-term sustainability of tourism while also ensuring that it contributes positively to biodiversity.
“Biodiversity is as necessary for nature and humankind as cultural diversity, to build stronger, more resilient societies, equipped with the tools they need to respond to the challenges of today and tomorrow,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in her message for the Day.
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Climate-vulnerable islands in spotlight ahead of UN disaster risk reduction forum in Mexico
22 May 2017 Hurricanes, cyclones and tsunamis are increasingly common threats to the world’s most climate-vulnerable island nations, whose representatives are meeting today in Cancun, Mexico, ahead of a major United Nations conference on risk reduction.
Addressing dozens of delegates from small island developing States, Robert Glasser, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, said island nations read “like a roll call for prevention, resilience and recovery from recent disasters and near misses.”
He noted that disasters on small islands affect the whole population, undermining efforts to eradicate poverty and build resilient cities and communities.
“If a high percentage of the population is affected, injured or killed, this can have long lasting consequences for recovery and overall development and economic activity,” Mr. Glasser said yesterday, as the island nations gathered for the first of three days of discussions.
The talks are being held ahead of the formal sessions of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, whose preparatory meetings start today and formal sessions will start on Wednesday.
Held every two years since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to discuss disaster reduction, the 2017 Global Platform – the fifth such event to date – is expected to bring together more than 5,000 Heads of State, policy makers, disaster risk managers, civil society and other participants.
This will be the first international summit on disaster since the Sendai Framework, which was adopted in 2015 in the northern Japanese city after which it was named, and consists of seven targets and four priorities for action that aim for the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.
Last year, 445 million people were affected by disasters linked to natural hazards worldwide including floods, storms, earthquakes and drought, 8,000 people lost their lives and direct economic losses from major disaster events were estimated at $138.8 billion.
The World Bank estimates that the real cost to the global economy from disasters is $520 billion per year and that they push 24 million people into poverty annually.
In his opening comments, Mr. Glasser applauded the island nations for “rising to the challenges and taking a leadership role in integrating action on disaster risk and climate risk in an era when extreme weather events have risen dramatically and trigger 90 per cent of all natural hazard related disasters.”
Calling these countries “on the frontline of solutions,” he noted their lead in calling for coherent implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the Sendai Framework and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
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Identifying all-time deadliest weather events, UN says history can help mitigate future disasters
18 May 2017 The United Nations weather agency today announced “world records” for the highest reported historical death tolls from tropical cyclones, tornadoes, lightning and hailstorms, marking the first time its Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes has broadened its scope from temperature and weather records to address impacts of specific events.
“Extreme weather causes serious destruction and major loss of life. That is one of the reasons behind the WMO’s [World Meteorological Organization] efforts to improve early warnings of multiple hazards and impact-based forecasting, and to learn lessons gleaned from historical disasters to prevent future ones,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“The human aspect inherent in extreme events should never be lost,” he added.
While the in-depth investigation by a WMO expert committee documented mortality records for five specific weather-related events, it did not address heat- or cold-waves, drought and floods.
The experts found that the highest mortality rate associated with extreme weather was during a 1970 tropical cyclone through what was at the time East Pakistan, which killed an estimated 300,000 people.
Other record-breaking weather events included a 1989 tornado in Bangladesh that killed an estimated 1,300 people, destroying the Manikganj district; a 1994 lightning-caused oil tank fire in Dronka, Egypt, which took 469 lives, whiled 21 people were killed by a single lightning bolt to a hut in the Manica Tribal Trust Lands in what was then Rhodesia; and Meanwhile, a 1888 hailstorm in near Moradabad, India, which killed 246 people with hailstones as large as “goose eggs and oranges and cricket balls.”
The findings were announced ahead of two major conferences on improving multi-hazard early warning systems and strengthening disaster risk reduction, taking place in Cancun, Mexico from 22 to 26 May and organized by WMO and the UN Office on Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
Overall mortality can also decrease as a result of continuous improvement in related forecasting and warning infrastructure.
“These events highlight the deadly tragedies associated with different types of weather. Detailed knowledge of these historical extremes confirms our continuing responsibilities to not only forecast and monitor weather and climate but to utilize that information to save lives around the world so disasters of these types are lessened or even eliminated in the future,” said Randall Cerveny, WMO Rapporteur on Climate and Weather Extremes.
The experts stressed that vulnerability is a function of both the risk of an event and the adaptation or resilience to the event. For example, heatwave-related mortality tends to decrease as air conditioning becomes more widespread. Similarly, lightning casualties decrease when munitions storage facilities install lightning rods and athletic programs establish lightning safety protocols.
Overall mortality can also decrease as a result of continuous improvement in related forecasting and warning infrastructure. For example, the MeteoAlarm system in Europe is a web-based service designed to provide real-time warning for people travelling in Europe of severe weather.
“Yet even with these improvements, mortality from weather-related events will continue. In order to put potential future weather-related catastrophes into accurate historical context, it is useful to have knowledge of baseline changes in weather-related mortality as monitored over the last one hundred and fifty years of official international weather records,” said the WMO committee.
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Amid ‘dramatic’ climate changes, UN launches plan to step-up polar weather and sea-ice monitoring
15 May 2017 With relatively little data available about the Earth’s Polar Regions – posing risks for people and the environment – the United Nations weather agency has kicked off of a two-year international effort to close gaps in polar forecasting capacity and to improve future environmental safety at the farthest reaches of the planet.
Polar conditions are changing dramatically, impacting weather across the globe, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said, launching the Year of Polar Prediction, which will aim to improve predictions of weather, climate and ice conditions in the Arctic and Antarctic.
“Because of teleconnections, the poles influence weather and climate conditions in lower latitudes where hundreds of millions of people live,” warned WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“Warming Arctic air masses and declining sea ice are believed to affect ocean circulation and the jet stream, and are potentially linked to extreme phenomena such as cold spell, heat waves and droughts in the northern hemisphere,” he added.
Scientists, with the help of data from operational forecasting centres, will observe, model, and improve forecasts of weather and climate systems to learn more about and improve the understanding of the weather changes at the poles.
In light of The Year of Polar Prediction, special observing periods will be added to improve the number of routine observations, for example by weather balloon launches, and buoy deployments from research vessels to measure atmospheric and oceanographic conditions.
Climate change at the Poles
The effects of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, one of the leading causes of global warming, are felt more intensely in the Polar Region as anywhere else. According to WMO, both the Artic and Antarctica are warming twice as fast as the rest of the world causing melting of glaciers and ice shelves, shrinking sear ice and snow cover. Polar wildlife ecosystems and indigenous population are already feeling the impact of climate change.
“Arctic sea-ice maximum extent after the winter re-freezing period in March was the lowest on record because of a series of ‘heat-waves.’ Antarctic sea ice minimum extent after the most recent Southern Hemisphere summer melt was also the lowest on record,” explained Thomas Jung of the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, and chair of the Polar Prediction Project steering committee.
“The rate and implications of polar environmental change is pushing our scientific knowledge to the limits,” he warned.
WMO further predicts that the noticeable changes in weather, climate and ice conditions at the poles are leading to increased human activities such as transportation, tourism, fisheries are and natural resource exploitation and extraction.
“The expected increase in activity comes with its own share of risks to both the environment and society, including traditional indigenous livelihoods”, said Mr. Taalas. “Ice-laden polar seas are a challenge to navigate, whilst any oil spills could be catastrophic.”
“Accurate weather and sea-ice information will thus become increasingly vital in order to improve safety management in Polar Regions and beyond,” the WMO chief concluded.
VIDEO: This video explains the background, methods and aims of the WMO Year of Polar Prediction.
Improving Artic forecasts
Polar and high mountain activities are among WMO’s top strategic priorities because of the growing impact of climate change from greenhouse gas emissions.
The Arctic and Antarctic are currently among the world’s most poorly observed regions. Lack of data along with limitations of models, impact the quality of forecasts while insufficient information about polar weather will also the affect quality of weather forecasts in other parts of the world.
WMO therefore expects that advances in Polar prediction will lead to improved weather forecasts and climate predictions both for Polar Regions as well as densely populated countries in other parts of the world.
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Ongoing forest destruction has put Asia-Pacific at risk of missing global development targets – UN agency
15 May 2017 The destruction of forests in many Asian countries continues apace, threatening the realization of global sustainable development goals by the 2030 deadline, according to the United Nations agricultural agency.
“While forests are critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they continue to be degraded and lost at a rate of 3.3 million hectares per year,” warned Patrick Durst, the Senior Forestry Officer at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.
Covering one-third of the earth’s surface, forests provide an invaluable variety of social, economic and environmental benefits. Forests and trees sustain and protect all life in invaluable ways.
They provide the clean air for breathing and the safe water to drink. Home to more than 80 per cent of land animals and plants, forests safeguard the planet’s biodiversity and act as a natural defence against climate change.
“In this region, forests continue to be converted to agriculture, destroyed and replaced by man-made infrastructure, housing, mining, and other land uses. Forest fires also continue to pose a threat to the region,” said Mr. Durst.
When the SDGs were formulated and agreed upon in 2015, forests were explicitly mentioned in order that they be aided through the protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable forests while halting and reversing associated land degradation and the loss of biodiversity.
Sustainably managed forests hold vast potential to play a decisive role in ending hunger, improving livelihoods and combating climate change. Photo: FAO/Simon Maina
According to FAO, a third of the world’s biggest cities, including Mumbai, Bogotá and New York, obtain much of their drinking water directly from forested areas. In short, life on earth is made possible and sustainable thanks to forests and trees.
Forests and poverty reduction
Forests also play a major role in supporting human livelihoods. Nina Brandstrup, FAO Representative in Sri Lanka, underscored that they have much to contribute to ending poverty – the first SDG.
“Globally, 1.3 billion people, mostly in developing countries, are estimated to be ‘forest peoples,’ who depend on forests for their livelihoods and income. Twenty-eight per cent of the total income of households living in or near forests come from forest and environmental income. Ending poverty would need to take the health of our forests into account and engage those ‘forest peoples’ directly,” she explained.
According to FAO’s Global Forest Resource Assessment in 2015, forests continue to be lost in many countries of the Asia-Pacific region, including Sri Lanka. Degradation of forest quality further decreases the forests’ capacity to provide goods and services necessary for human survival. These losses will be more acutely felt as the demand for forest products steadily rises in the future.
While most countries in the Asia-Pacific region continue to struggle to respond to forest loss, some are taking positive action. Through reforestation programmes, China and Viet Nam are actually increasing the amount of forested land.
Meantime, the Government of Sri Lanka has announced plans to increase the country’s forest cover by as much as 35 per cent – including with the people that will benefit most.
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