Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction in Asia

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
April 15, 2011

As Prepared

I’m pleased to have the opportunity to speak at this important program on disaster risk reduction in Nepal. The U.S. Government views the Government of Nepal as one of our key partners in South Asia, strategically located between its two giant neighbors India and China.

Our policy goal in Nepal is straightforward -- we seek a stable, prosperous and democratic Nepal. Nepal is also one of our key development partners: USAID began its work in Nepal 60 years ago, and the U.S. Government has invested nearly $1.5 billion in Nepal in this period.

After the end of the ten-year civil conflict and elections in 2008, Nepal is moving – albeit at times slowly – toward sustainable peace and development. We are proud to support that effort. Despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, Nepal has made impressive strides in fields like education and health – among the most dramatic progress of any country in the world.

But there is a very real prospect that a catastrophic earthquake could kill and injure many people, and set back the development timeline decades as it has in Haiti, undermining much of the social and economic progress that has been achieved.

I have been involved in the U.S. response to numerous natural disasters. One of the most important lessons we have learned is the critical importance of Nepal and other countries having a plan in place to mitigate risks. Such a plan will help mitigate the effects, save lives, and reduce the recovery period. It will help host governments think through in advance who from the government would lead the in-country response mechanism, and how this unit would coordinate with international donors, NGOs and others to ensure effective communication and cooperation.

Bangladesh is a good example of a country that has suffered many natural disasters, but has learned from each and thereby managed to lower significantly the human toll from successive disasters.

The U.S. has long been a leader in global disaster response, combining the significant assets and expertise of our military and USAID. But the most effective responses include strong regional cooperation. This will be particularly true in Nepal, a landlocked country where an earthquake could knock out airfields as well, severely complicating initial disaster response efforts.

Close coordination with India will be particularly important. I served in India during the 2004 tsunami and saw first-hand how close U.S.-India cooperation from the outset helped spur a very rapid response and avoid duplication of efforts. I am pleased Joint Secretary Srivastava of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has joined us today, underlining the importance India attaches to sharing its own considerable DRR experience and playing a leading regional role.

I am pleased also that the SAARC Disaster Center is playing such an active role in enhancing regional cooperation on disasters. The U.S. looks forward to supporting these efforts.

Thank you again for asking me to participate and the United States stands committed to working with Nepal and other countries in the region on disaster risk reduction.