‘Let’s square up to the task’: Princess Margriet of the Netherlands speaks to UN conference on disaster risk

‘Let’s square up to the task’: Princess Margriet of the Netherlands speaks to UN conference on disaster risk
15 March 2015

(Full text of today's speech by HRH Princess Margriet of the Netherlands at the opening of the ecosystem session at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan.)

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege to address you. I’m here upon invitation from Margareta Wahlstrom, who I congratulate on her formidable work to advance our common agenda.

But I’m mainly here simply as someone who has seen the impacts of too many disasters, especially during my many years working with the Netherlands Red Cross and the international Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

During those years, one of the most important developments has been the shift from response to risk reduction.

With hazards growing and changing all the time, even more needs to be done to banish suffering and protect lives and livelihoods.

Our unshakeable commitment in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement – like yours – has been to leap that extra hurdle towards preventing risk, rather than just alleviating suffering when it’s essentially too late.

I am convinced that unless we address challenges like climate change, degradation of the environment and bad use of land, we will fail in our global ambitions to prevent suffering, but also to reduce poverty and enable sustainable economic growth for all.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Red Cross Red Crescent would normally focus on local efforts to reduce risk in vulnerable communities.

But we quickly realized the need for a broader perspective to understand the root causes of risk, including its intimate connections to the natural environment.

Heavy rainfall, ever more erratic, is causing local floods because of deforestation upstream.

At the same time we’re seeing that droughts are getting more acute when the retention capacity of the soil, once kept together by the roots of the trees, is lost. Or when pastures are left barren by overgrazing.

And storms, whipping up stronger storm-surges on top of higher seas, are battering coastal communities that are left unprotected when their coastal belt of mangroves is destroyed.

It is encouraging to see how much progress is already being made to address these underlying causes of risk.

Community-level work like reforestation is now at the core of what the Red Cross Red Crescent does.

In addition, the growing awareness of the landscape dimension of risk is improving communication between communities, enabling early warning early action.

For instance, people who live upstream along rivers send messages to communities downstream, giving them precious time to save lives and livelihoods.

And through “serious games” those communities are now also discussing how they are connected through the landscape, and how they can work together for a safer future.

But of course not all of these solutions happen within or between communities. We have to blend these, essentially local, solutions with national and regional strategies.

It entails new thinking on a grand scale, and better cooperation by stakeholders up and down the chain.

We need to ensure that local risk information is taken into account in national planning, and that international finance reaches those who can implement the solutions that build on natural capital, rather than destroy it.

And that also requires new partnerships, across sectors and scales.

The Netherlands Red Cross, for instance, has benefited from its partnership with Wetlands International – and I am pleased to see their CEO Jane Madgwick in today’s panel.

Colleagues, we will need such cooperation at all levels in this crucial year when Sendai, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris climate talks intersect.

We face a potentially lethal mix of global warming, unplanned urbanization, and degraded ecosystems.

World leaders must agree – through HFA II – on increasing their efforts to cope with these new risks.

But the United Nations can only set a benchmark for our aspirations; it is we who must do the work.

So let’s now square up to the task, starting here in Sendai.


HRH Princess Margriet of the Netherlands addressing at the opening of the ecosystem session at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai.
(Photo: Netherlands Red Cross)