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Australian Statement to the World Conference on Disaster Reduction

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Speaker: Australia's Ambassador to Japan, Mr Murray McLean

Kobe, Japan

Mr President, distinguished delegates.

The work of this conference has been brought into sharp relief by the tragic
consequences of the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

In the wake of this tragedy, the Australia Government has committed to
date one billion dollars to the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction
and Development, 60 million dollars to other regional relief efforts, and
a half million dollars to the flash appeal to assist the Seychelles.

We were also able to respond quickly and practically on the ground, deploying
medical and victim identification teams, defence force field hospitals and
rescue teams.

Furthermore, there has also been an outpouring of support from the Australian
people, with private donations to the relief effort well over one hundred
and fifty million dollars.

Sadly, there will inevitably be further natural disasters. Once again
it might be a tsunami. It could happen again in the Indian Ocean. Or
it might be in the Pacific or elsewhere. Or we might need to respond to
a cyclone, volcanic eruption, drought or flood. Just a
few days ago tragedy struck in Australia where bushfires wrought a sad toll
in casualties and destruction.

So, while, quite properly, the international community is focussed on the
Indian Ocean tsunami, we are obliged at this conference to remember that
disasters come in many forms; that they strike in many different places;
and that there is no one single prevention and mitigation response that
can cover all contingencies.

Australia is a country with a unique perspective on, and experience with
a range of natural disasters. As an island continent we face some
of the harshest and most variable weather in the world. And we have
many remote communities. Our shores are lapped by both the Pacific Ocean
and the Indian Ocean. As a country we must be prepared for a range of natural
disasters from cyclones and floods, to droughts and bushfires - as well
as tsunamis.

It follows from this that we have a long and very diverse experience in
disaster risk reduction and response, both domestically and in our region. For
example, in the last decade we have helped Papua New Guinea respond to a
tsunami, droughts, and the Rabaul volcanic eruption and in the Pacific and
South East Asia we have helped with recovery from major cyclones and flooding.

May I share briefly, several perspectives that flow from Australia's own
experience with preparing for and responding to disasters.

First, technical responses are necessary, but alone they are not enough
in disaster reduction.

Technical solutions must go hand in hand with the development of good policy,
political commitment, institutions, capacity building and - importantly
- the development of community based responses.

Second, natural disasters respect no borders, which of course means regional
and multilateral cooperation is critical. Ultimately, it is individual
countries that are best placed to know their own priorities and capacities,
what they can manage, and what they can maintain over the longer term.

Third, the institutional interface is critical to success. The
international system needs to mesh with the regional; the regional with
the national; the national with the provincial or sub national; right the
way down to the village level.

Fourth, disasters have major consequences for the long-term development
prospects of countries. Disasters strike all countries
and that means, for example, while the recent tsunami disaster has riveted
attention on those countries of the Indian Ocean, we must not overlook the
very particular challenges and unique needs of Pacific Small Island Developing
States in disaster risk management. In particular, Australia will
continue to support these countries through capacity building initiatives
that reinforce existing national institutional capability.

We must be smarter in the way we respond during the relief and rehabilitation
phases, including by consciously designing interventions that are labour
intensive, thereby reducing poverty.

And the rehabilitation phase needs to help countries produce better environments
in which people can live and work. For example, Australia has
constructed cyclone resistant public buildings in the Pacific that dramatically
cut the cost of electricity for air conditioning and lighting; that slash
ongoing maintenance costs or do not damage the environment. We
all must be smarter and more innovative in what, where, and how things are

Fifth and finally, continued economic growth and development and good governance
is ultimately the best way in which countries can increase their individual
capacities for disaster reduction.

In closing I would briefly return to a matter to be discussed in a special
session here, namely the need for a tsunami early warning system in the
Indian Ocean.

Australia has proposed and strongly supports an international effort to
establish an effective and durable tsunami early warning system for the
Indian Ocean.

Many countries around the globe are willing to pledge financial and technical
support to establish an Indian Ocean system. In developing a system,
Australia believes it must be tailored to the specific geological circumstances
of the Indian Ocean and the individual requirements of regional countries. And
it must be the regional countries themselves that determine the shape and
nature of the system.

The Pacific system operated by regional countries under the auspices of
the IOC, provides a sound model for the Indian Ocean. Australia looks
forward to discussing the Indian Ocean proposal at the upcoming IOC meeting.

Australia thanks the Government of Japan, the prefecture of Hyogo and the
city of Kobe for hosting the conference.

Australia looks very much forward to a productive Conference. Thank you.

Last Updated: 19 September 2014
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