Opening statement of SRSG Mami Mizutori at the Second International Conference on Water, Megacities and Global Change
Remarks by SRSG Mami Mizutori
Second International Conference on Water, Megacities and Global Change (EauMega) - 11 January 2022
Thank you very much Mr Daniel Marcovitch,
Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Audrey Azoulay,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to be with you this morning to explore once again the linkages between water, megacities and global change.
Water is at the centre of the human experience, water is associated with everything we do and everything we are. We cannot live without water. Yet water can be as much as an enemy as a friend.
Water gives life, but water also takes life.
From the perspective of disaster risk reduction, which is a main theme of this conference, and from that of my agency, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the concern about the risks posed by water-related hazards is increasing to say the least. There is no doubt that water-related hazards, too much or too less, are growing in intensity and frequency. Over the past 50 years, floods were the most common type of climate related hazards, with an economic loss of more than US$ 100 billion. Meanwhile droughts brought 650,000 people to an early death, and when it comes to droughts, we know that the current data on their impact is very much underestimated due to the complex nature of this disaster.
The climate emergency will lead to even more extreme water-related events: more powerful storms and flooding; greater water shortages and more protracted droughts. In the longer term, an inevitable question lingers: How long will our current water infrastructure last when or if our planet exceeds the 1.5°C global warming limit?
Meanwhile, we are now nearly two years into the COVID-19 global pandemic. We might have hoped to be on the other side by now, but we know it is not the case. COVID-19 has offered us a text-book example of how risks can overwhelm us when societies are not prepared. COVID-19 has also taught us hard lessons on the contemporary nature of risk, this means that risk surrounding us is interconnected and systemic, and that their impacts ripple through societies and systems, leaving long-term socio-economic impacts.
And as we grapple with the COVID-19 fallout and the overwhelming number of intense disasters related to climate events, the subject that we are contemplating today on ‘megacities’, is extremely relevant. Because in the context of all disasters, whether it is a pandemic or an extreme whether event, how a city is created, how it is managed and run can in itself become a serious risk-driver, affecting more and more people who live there.
By 2030, the percentage of the world population living in cities will rise to more than 60 percent. Cities will continue to grow, expand, and push their limits. The number of megacities, with more than 10 million inhabitants, will tick upwards. Unfortunately, many cities wrestle with a long list of vulnerabilities: widespread poverty, gender-based violence, and more and more displacement. At the same time, critical infrastructure systems and basic services, including for health, education, transport, telecommunications, and of course water, are struggling, or at times even failing completely.
When a water related disaster strikes a mega-city, the impact is amplified, because everything is concentrated. It can lead to many things including less safe drinking water, more environmental pollution, more dangerous flooding and epidemics.
All the world over, vulnerable mega-cities are at risk of being compromised by the next disaster.
But if we, UNDRR, are concerned about water-related hazards, we are equally passionate about preventing and preparing better from these hazards, because we know the enormous difference that this can make. The research proves it: every dollar spent on preventing and reducing disaster risk saves a large amount on response and rebuilding. Roughly, every $1 spent on risk reduction, on prevention, saves $6 or more on response and recovery.
So, in other words: the more cities do now, the more they invest in prevention, the less they will suffer and pay in the future. In real terms what does this mean, it means that if we are better in disaster risk reduction, fewer people die; fewer lives and livelihoods are hampered; homes remain dry and livable; roads stay clear; bridges remain standing; power and water supplies keep working; and schools and hospitals will stay open.
Over the next 20 years, more infrastructure will be built than in the previous 2000 years, with the vast majority of this happening in cities. This presents an enormous opportunity IF we invest more in resilience and prevention, and this can be done by changing our perception that resilience is not a cost, it is a wise investment.
So how do we achieve this resilience? What is the change we need to make?
Recalling the Tokyo Olympics games of several months ago, and of course Paris is the next host, we coined the phrase: Triple Jump to Resilience. Jump 1, the hurdle of capacity; Jump 2, the hurdle of finance and Jump 3, the hurdle of silos toward productive partnerships. Let us look into what these three hurdles that we need to jump are.
The first element, ‘capacity’. Let’s help cities increase their capacity to implement resilient policies. Let’s help them establish inclusive governance mechanisms so that cities can effectively coordinate resilience policy and action throughout all sectors and levels. For some cities, this support may be establishing early warning systems; for others this may mean designing and implementing local DRR strategies.
The second element, finance. We need to support cities to access and manage finance so that they can implement their resilience policies, through their own local project pipelines. Cities can never meet their resilience goals without financing.
The third element is partnerships. We need to support cities in breaking down and jumping silos to establish genuine and sustainable partnerships because resilience-building is a long-term process which needs an all-of-society approach with committed partnerships across sectors.
Please imagine the positive impact that such a scaled up, rolled out Triple Jump To Resilience could have through an enhanced global partnership. The experience of COVID-19 has made it clear that there is no better way to respond to a disaster than through national and international partners working with local leadership, and COVID has also shown us what happens when this partenship, this solidarity is not there.
The partnership among the local, national and global actors is not only necessary for response to disasters but also the foundation for building local resilience in cities before the disasters strike.
One such partnership exclusively for the cities is the Making Cities Resilient 2030 initiative, known among many cities as MCR2030.
This initaitve MCR2030 was launched in October 2020 as a collaboration for local resilience among UNDRR and core partners with experience and expertise in urban development and will continue to the year 2030 when we aspire the SDGs to be achieved. UCLG, UNDP, World Bank are among our partners.
This is a long-term partnership that supports cities in shaping and owning their vision of disaster resilience. The aim is to leave no city behind or no city alone in the resilience journey. It is a partnership that is proving increasingly attractive to a diverse range of local governments. Cities of all sizes, and from all regions, are joining MCR2030.
MCR2030 offers a market-place for cities to access knowledge, tools, and resources provided by development partners, academia, and the private sector. Current available services include technical support for climate scenario planning, green bonds, revision of building codes, the integration of health hazards into risk assessments and others.
Such innovative partnerships are changing the traditional DRR narratives that used to look backwards and focuses on disaster losses, to a new narrative that looks forwards and creates significant economic and social dividends as a result of investment in resilience.
Just by observing all the loss and damage that disasters are causing in every corner of the world, and in particular cities, we know that the long-standing model of responding only after the disaster hits us and rebuilding afterwards does not work. Cities and human settlements simply cannot be inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable with disasters constantly eroding hard-earned development gains locking people into poverty.
The new narrative, the change we need to make is for cities to move forward in the Triple Jump to Resilience by increasing their capacity, attracting finance, and establishing supportive partnerships.
I would like to close with one final message from the recently concluded COP26 that we are already on the resilience road from COP26 in Glasgow, UK to COP27 in Sharm El-Sheik Egypt. Let us travel together in this resilience journey jumping hurdles and in doing so build the sustainable road to urban resilience. We are one planet: and we cannot leave no city behind on this planet.