Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, right, greets Vice President Jusuf Kalla at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction on Friday. (AFP Photo/Toshifumi Kitamura)

VP Kalla: In Disaster Risk Reduction, Cooperation Crucial

MARCH 15, 2015

Jakarta. Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the risk of disasters in developing countries can only be reduced if the international community works together, after a massive cyclone tore through the island nation of Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean on Friday.

Speaking at the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, on Saturday, Kalla said poor and developing countries cannot quickly recover from disasters “without support from the international community."

The vice president said risk reduction was the only solution for such countries, which have minimal economic growth to recover from disasters on their own.

Indonesia is willing to share some of the lessons learned from the 2004 tsunami in Aceh and the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake on risk reduction with other disaster-prone countries, he said.

Since the two disasters, Indonesia has increased the skills and capacities of its rescue personnel and empowered local communities as the first line of support in the event of a natural disaster.

“But we must understand that these are all long-term efforts, which require international cooperation in all levels so that we can increase the capacities of all developing nations so that their people can become more resilient towards disaster,” he said, as quoted by Antara state news agency.

A state of emergency has been declared in Vanuatu, where dozens are feared dead after one of the most powerful storms ever recorded smashed through. Aid agencies have spoken of “grave fears” over the scale of the human tragedy.

But World Bank vice president Rachel Kyte, who is also a special envoy for climate change, said there seems to be a disconnect between policy and increasingly frequent weather-related disasters.

“I worry that a sense of urgency and a sense of shared ambition is not at the right level,” she told AFP on the sidelines of the conference. “It’s hugely ironic that this storm should hit Vanuatu while we are all here. If we truly care for those people, we have to respond,” she said, referring to the need for environmental commitments.

“I think we have to hold ourselves accountable and at least voluntarily we should have targets” on emission reductions from the Sendai conference, she added.

Although the official death toll from Cyclone Pam, a maximum category-five storm that swept through Vanuatu, stood at six on Sunday, the United Nations had unconfirmed reports of 44 people killed in just one province.

Aid agency Oxfam said up to 90 percent of homes in the capital Port Vila had been damaged as winds of up to 320 kilometers an hour lashed the country Friday night. It said the scale of the disaster would not be known until reports filter in from outlying islands.

“This is likely to be one of the worst disasters ever seen in the Pacific, the scale of humanitarian need will be enormous ... entire communities have been blown away,” Oxfam’s Vanuatu director Colin Collet van Rooyen said.

Vanuatu’s President Baldwin Lonsdale used the Sendai conference to make an emotional appeal to the international community for help, telling representatives of 190 countries that his country needed “a lending hand.”

The conference comes ahead of COP 21 talks scheduled for December in Paris, where countries will try to thrash out agreements on cutting greenhouse gases.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who will chair the meeting, told AFP that Sendai could act as a springboard to success later in the year.

As NGOs scrambled to meet immediate needs such as clean water, sanitation, food and shelter, the World Bank’s Kyte said there should be a recognition of the growing role that rising global temperatures play.

“I don’t think I would say climate change caused [Cyclone] Pam, but I would say the fact is in the past three or four years we’ve seen category fives coming with a regularity we’ve never seen before” Kyte said.

“And that has some relationship with climate change,” she said. “We may have helped communities become resilient to the kinds of storms we experienced in the past, but not resilience to a storm with wind speed of up to 300 kilometers per hour.

Additional reporting from Agence France-Presse