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ESCAP Executive Secretary, Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Opening Remarks at APDIM Side Event at CDRR7

Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

Online, 30 August 2021

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ESCAP Executive Secretary, Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Opening Remarks at APDIM Side Event at the seventh session of ESCAP Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction: Sand and Dust Storms Risk Assessment in Asia and the Pacific: Potential for Concerted Action at Regional Level to Reduce Risk and Strengthen Resilience

Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

26 August 2021

Distinguished participants,

Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to address this side-event on Seventh Session of the Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction, Coordinated Regional Action on Sand and Dust Storms: Implications of Sand and Dust Storms Risk Assessment in Asia and the Pacific.

With the wide-ranging implications of COVID-19 and the threat of climate change looming, as highlighted by the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is even more compelling to adopt and apply multi-hazard, inclusive and solution-oriented approaches for disaster risk reduction. Disasters recognize no borders and therefore, regional cooperation and partnerships play a critical role in achieving measurable results for sustainable development.

Sand and dust storms seriously affect several areas in the world, including in Asia and the Pacific. The APDIM report, “Sand and Dust Storms Risk Assessment in Asia and the Pacific,” which we are launching today, reveals that sand and dust storms pose risks to both society and the environment and directly threatens the achievement of 11 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The Report demonstrates that the cumulative effects of sand and dust storms on society are significant, and they are more frequent than most other types of natural hazards and their impacts are highly complex.

The findings of this assessment indicate that millions of people in the region are exposed to medium and high levels of poor air quality due to sand and dust storms. Such phenomena contribute significantly to poor air quality in Karachi, Lahore, and Delhi, where nearly 60 million people experienced more than 170 dusty days in 2019. In agriculture, more than 70 per cent of farms in Turkmenistan and nearly half of the farmlands in Pakistan and Uzbekistan are exposed to sand and dust storms. In the environment, glaciers in the Himalaya-Hindu Kush Mountain range and Tibetan Plateau, which provides fresh water to more than 1.3 billion people in the region, are exposed to sand and dust storms which could impact the hydrologic regime of the area and consequently make an impact on  water security, drought, flood and agriculture. The report focused on one component of the energy sector which is the solar power plants, and it is estimated that sand and dust storms are responsible for economic losses of hundreds of millions of dollars annually in India, China and Pakistan.

ESCAP, with its regional institutions such as APDIM, contributes to building a shared understanding among the countries in our region about the common threats of hazards. Still, we are also ready to support regional cooperation and facilitate joint actions to reduce the risk and negative impacts of sand and dust storms. 

This report identifies three broad areas where regional cooperation would be especially important and I warmly encourage all countries in the region especially affected, to build on these findings and work on solutions together, especially on the following aspects:

First, a deeper understanding of the socio-economic impacts of sand and dust storms.  This report scratched the surface of the problem. We need to dig deeper together and fully understand the impact at the national level in most affected countries, especially for those most at risk and vulnerable.

Second, a coordinated monitoring and early warning system, with an impact-based focus, to timely forecast sand and dust storms, and enable targeted measures to minimize exposure and reduce risks.  It is a transboundary hazard that requires coordinated work at regional and subregional levels to predict and take timely action to reduce the worst impacts, especially in the health sector.

Third, coordinated actions in most at-risk and exposed geographical areas to mitigate the risks. Sand and dust storms highlight the critical nexus between disaster, climate and health – we must do better collectively to mitigate and reduce the risk through ad hoc reduction measures.

The 77th session of the Commission requested the secretariat to promote regional cooperation to implement the health aspects of the Sendai Framework, including those reflected in the Bangkok Principles. The intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic with climate extremes and hazards, such as sand and dust storms and other biological hazards, means that future disaster risk reduction and management planning will need to include multi-hazard disaster risk assessment, monitoring, early warning, response and recovery.   

Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,

The COVID-19 crisis has adversely impacted the functions and services of many organizations at the national, regional and international levels - the support of regional and international institutions to help countries and communities and facilitate regional cooperation is needed more than ever. ESCAP stands ready to extend its full support and cooperation to the countries of the region to build back better from the current COVID-19 crisis and reduce the risk of future disasters.

I extend my appreciation and thanks to the APDIM team for deepening our understanding of the risk of sand and dust storms in the region. Even, more importantly, I thank the member States, partners, regional and international  organizations and experts who joined this collective effort and contributed so significantly to this analysis into the risk and negative impacts of sand and dust storms.

I wish you a very successful side-event.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Read the report: Sand and Dust Storms Risk Assessment in Asia and the Pacific