The COVID-19 health crisis has caused wide-ranging socio-economic disruption worldwide. This has exposed and aggravated existing social imbalances. The pandemic has called for unprecedented measures to protect those so close to our heart: our parents, grandparents, the elderly and vulnerable. Taking a risk management perspective, this crisis has pointed out the critical necessity of investing in prevention, preparedness and response, from the very start.
Today, on the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), let us take this crisis as a reminder to step up our efforts across all sectors, at the national level and across borders. Devising appropriate policies and taking prevention and preparedness action right now will accelerate progress towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
UNECE is fully engaged to help countries “build back better” in the wake of the pandemic and, looking forward beyond the crisis, to ensure a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive society. Our commitment stretches across a range of different sectors and communities. Our policy fora, legal and normative instruments, and guidance are potent tools that can strengthen the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainable development.
Cities have been particularly affected by the current crisis, exposing their vulnerabilities, including overcrowded public transport, inadequate and unsanitary settlements, and the lack of open green spaces to allow for social distancing. Last week’s first Forum of Mayors 2020 on 6 October provided a new platform for mayors to exchange their experiences in dealing with the COVID-19 health emergency and other challenges their cities were facing. The Forum adopted the forward-looking Geneva Declaration of Mayors, committing to strengthen the resilience of cities, take ambitious climate action, make cities greener, more equitable and inclusive, accelerate the sustainable energy transition, ensure sustainable transport, and affordable, healthy and adequate housing.
Safe water is a prerequisite for the provision of adequate sanitation and hygiene and for addressing possible systemic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, such as disaster risk, poverty, economic downturn, food and energy insecurity and political instability. The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes and its UNECE/WHO Protocol on Water and Health promote the availability of safe water for all within countries and across borders. Looking beyond the pandemic, the Water Convention helps transboundary basins adapt to climate change, by developing and implementing transboundary adaptation strategies and plans.
During lockdowns installed by national governments, industrial activities faced periods of shut-down and start-up of operations. These sudden periods of inactivity can increase the risk of accidents, an example of which occurred at a plastics factory in Ottaviano, Italy, on 5 May this year. The Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents strengthens technological disaster risk management and offers solutions to maintain and improve safety.
Declaring a state of emergency and adopting measures to combat the spread of the virus has often included restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and movement, and altered the way in which numerous basic rights are exercised. Through the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters and its Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers , UNECE will continue to foster the engagement of all stakeholders, in a “whole-of-society approach.”
To help politicians make the right decisions, adequate data, tools and analyses are needed. The Conference of European Statisticians recommendations on measuring hazardous events and disasters, developed by UNECE in cooperation with partners, supported the development of new pandemic-specific data collection and COVID-19 portals, such as the Platform ’COVID-19 and official Statistics.’
Micro-, small- and medium enterprises, which are the backbone of our region’s economy, have been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. To support the post-COVID-19 economic recovery, UNECE recently issued guidelines and best practices in critical raw material supply to assure post-COVID-19 resilience, targeted at such enterprise. Looking beyond the crisis, these can help progress towards a circular economy – the theme of UNECE’s 69th Commission session in April 2021.
The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic have disproportionately impacted vulnerable populations. Earlier this month, UNECE joined the United Nations Population Fund together with the WHO, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and HelpAge International in launching a new Joint Programme on Ageing with the goal of “Building forward better in light of COVID-19: Upholding the rights and dignity of older persons through health, social care and enabling environments in Europe and Central Asia.”
Beyond these instruments and initiatives, UNECE works closely with partners through various networks and partnerships, including the new United Nations regional inter-agency Issue-based coalitions. The Issue-based Coalition on Environment and Climate Change, co-led by UNECE, UNEP and UNESCO, recently developed summary recommendations for pandemic socioeconomic assessments and post-pandemic recovery strategies, to provide guidance to UN Country Teams, in beginning to work with Governments on a green recovery.
I encourage our member States and stakeholders to make full use of our policy platforms, guidance, advisory and assistance services, and to consider UNECE’s legal and normative instruments when devising their national DRR strategies and action plans, in line with their commitments under the Sendai Framework. The full range of hazards and risks need to be integrated into these strategies, including natural, climate-change related, technological, biological as well as transboundary hazards and risks. Many disasters can be prevented if disaster risk reduction strategies are in place to manage and reduce existing levels of risk and to avoid emerging risks to take traction.
Together, we can build back better in the wake of COVID-19, for a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive future. You can count on our engagement.