I’m just back from Sendai, the largest city in Japan’s tsunami-devastated Tohoku region, where I participated in the World Bank and Government of Japan’s Sendai Dialogue. People gathered from around the world to highlight the need for countries to understand, prevent, and prepare for the inevitable risks of natural disasters. Few nations could have withstood the fierceness of the 9.0 earthquake followed by a towering tsunami as well as Japan with its culture of preparedness. In countries where development gains are still fragile and precious, the ability to manage disasters is especially crucial for sustaining development.
On the International Day for Disaster Reduction, it is vital to remember that around the world, millions of people continue to suffer from earthquakes, storms, tsunamis and prolonged droughts that result in a tragic loss of life and slowed economic growth. Today we also celebrate the important progress of the last decade, with improved early warning systems, better community preparedness and the improved ability of countries to manage an effective response when disaster hits.
USAID has been a leader in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programming for decades, pioneering approaches to help countries and regions confront a range of these threats. But even as national response capabilities have improved in many areas, disasters and the shocks that catalyze them are coming more frequently and intensely as a result of climate change.
Moreover, in areas with chronic poverty and persistent vulnerabilities, recurring shocks continue to drive the same populations into crisis year after year. So now, even as we save lives, USAID is working to build resilience to recurrent crisis by better connecting our humanitarian assistance with our development programs and more closely coordinating with international development partners in support of country-led plans. By limiting the impacts of hazards, DRR efforts are a vital part of building resilience and helping families and communities bounce back.
This year, together with the international community, we are particularly mindful of the key role women and girls play in disaster risk reduction. In many parts of the world, it is women who most often feed their families, make sure they have water to drink, and make fast decisions when crisis strikes that can make the difference between life and death for their children.
Last week in Japan, one of the hard-learned lessons shared by the Japanese was the importance of including women and girls in planning and preparedness efforts. Two high school girls, Rina and Risa, shared with us their experiences after the earthquake and tsunami, as they helped their families escape and then to rebuild. Above all, they noted, it was a close-knit community of friends and neighbors that sustained them in a difficult time of chaos.
Today and every day, these are the lessons the international community must continue to heed and apply as part of our continued commitment to a more secure world. When it comes to disasters and development, the stakes are just too great.