Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh delivered an opening speech at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) High-Level Meeting on Disaster Prevention and Relief in Response to Climate Change in Hanoi on November 18, calling for cooperation in disaster risk reduction, management and mitigation.

Following is the full text of the speech:

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, I warmly welcome all distinguished guests, delegates and leading experts from ASEM partners, the United Nations and a number of regional and international organisations to our Meeting today.

Let me take this opportunity to express once again the most profound sympathy of the Government and people of Vietnam to our friends in the Philippines who have been suffering untold losses caused by typhoon Haiyan.

I would also like to sincerely thank the ASEM partners and regional and international organisations for your solidarity and support for the peoples of Vietnam together with the Philippines during this hard time.

As pointed out at the 4 th Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva last May, the on-going 19 th Session of the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Warsaw and the 11 th ASEM Ministers’ Meeting in Delhi last week, never before have calamities become so devastating and challenging. Never before has the need to strengthen coordination and cooperation in policy and action in response to natural disasters become so pressing.

Ladies and gentlemen,
With far-reaching advances of science and technology as well as international cooperation, we have accorded remarkable achievements in the response to disasters. However, entering the 21 st century, natural calamities have turned out to be much more extreme, with an exceptional increase in both frequency and scale and in its impact. As in the very recent Provisional Statement on Status of Climate in 2013, the World Meteorological Organisation warns that, just in more than a decade of this century, global sea level reached a new record this year and doubles the observed 20 th century trend, while typhoons, hurricanes, floods, flash floods, landslides, snow and extreme cold, cyclones, droughts, wild fires, etc. continue to be more severe and prolonged. 2013 is likely to be among the 10 warmest years since global records began in 1850. Global warming is causing changes in biological systems, thus leading to abnormal catastrophes.

Asia and Europe are the two continents most often hit by natural disasters. Particularly, the Asia - Pacific region alone has recorded almost 70 percent of the world’s disasters and nearly two thirds of the victims are in Asia . Over the past five years, we have constantly witnessed many unseen catastrophes, notably the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the flash floods in Thailand in 2011, a number of destructive typhoons in the Philippines and the recent intense thunderstorms in Europe.
These are due to unpredictable impact of climate change – the greatest threat of the 21 st century. It would be no exaggeration to say that it is human behaviour, especially rapid industrialisation, urbanisation and the enormous expansion of the human population that has intensified the damage caused by nature. We subsequently face relentless challenges in achieving the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 and in our efforts to reduce poverty, narrow the development gaps and realize connectivity programs. In a globalised world, natural disasters disrupt not only the operation of our business at local and national levels, but also our regional and global supply chains and value chains. Besides, the global financial crisis - the most prolonged in over a century - is also eroding our resources and capability to mitigate disaster risks.

Such catastrophes will continue to be one of the most challenging non-traditional security threats in this century. They will continue hindering our efforts to improve the quality of life of our people, to accelerate economic recovery, to promote sustainable development and to strengthen international economic integration.

Ladies and gentlemen,
History has shown us that, although natural phenomena cannot be controlled, we do have capacities to mitigate their impact and human and property losses if we have timely coordination, cooperation and mutual support. As an indispensable inter-regional forum with 51 partners from Asia and Europe and with vast economic and technology potentials, ASEM has the capacity and responsibility to contribute to international efforts in responding to natural disasters.

Since the 2 nd ASEM Summit held in London exactly 15 years ago, our Leaders identified disaster preparedness and management as an important area of ASEM dialogue and cooperation. At the 9 th ASEM Summit in Vientiane last year, they reaffirmed “the need to enhance cooperation in the areas of disaster management and emergency response, including situation awareness, early warning and search and rescue at seas.”

As an agricultural country severely affected by disasters, Vietnam attaches great importance and continues committing to international cooperation in disaster preparedness and mitigation. This is an important part in Vietnam ’s “Sustainable Development Strategy for 2011 – 2020,” “National Strategy for Natural Disaster Prevention, Response and Mitigation towards 2020” and “Law on Natural Disaster Prevention and Mitigation” adopted last June. Our policy is to engage proactively in and make practical contributions to international cooperation at all levels, including the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, ASEAN, ASEM, APEC and bilateral frameworks. The ASEAN Disaster Emergency Response Simulation Exercise 2013 (ARDEX – 13) was just organised in Vietnam last month.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Only by joining hands to take bold actions today, can we be able to better cope with the threats posed by disasters in the future. On that note, I hope that our Meeting today will focus on the following key issues.

First , what are the best practices and lessons learned in response to natural disasters?

Second , what can be the most practical measures ASEM partners should take together to promote coordination and cooperation in disaster risk reduction and management and mitigation, through awareness and behavior change programs, early warning systems, use of innovations in technology, search, rescue and relief capacity building and post-disaster rehabilitation. It is also essential to have frequent exchange of views and regular coordination with a view to better meeting the need of ASEM partners in such circumstances.

Third, how we can set up a network of research institutes and early warning systems among ASEM partners, between Asia and Europe, and with those of regional and international organisations. Now it is imperative for ASEM partners to work together with the international community for bolder action in implementing the “Hyogo Framework for Action” endorsed by the United Nations.

Vietnam is honoured to be the host of this event. We highly value the strong support and close and effective coordination of all ASEM partners, especially the co-sponsors, and those of the United Nations and other regional and international organizations in preparations for this Meeting.

I am strongly convinced that, with your deliberations and invaluable insights, our Meeting today will be a success. Our Meeting together with the Conference to be convened in the Philippines next year and other follow-up activities, as well as the “ASEM Area of Tangible Cooperation on Disaster Management and Mitigation, Building Rescue and Relief Capacities, Technologies and Innovation in Rescue Equipments and Techniques”, will contribute meaningfully to achieving our common objective to “build a new Asia - Europe Partnership” and to enhancing ASEM’s profile in the evolving global landscape.

With all these in mind, I am pleased to announce the opening of our Meeting today.

Thank you all for your attention.-VNA