Speaking to the leaders of the special meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn Thursday issued a plea that the long-term recovery of the devastated areas be carried out in a way that will break the cycle of poverty, and restore hope to those affected for a better future.
"Let us rebuild in a way that will make the poor more secure and less vulnerable to future disasters," said Mr. Wolfensohn. "And let us rebuild in a way that alleviates future conflict and restores the hope for lasting peace. This is well beyond restoring water and sanitation and roads -- it is going to be about rebuilding communities and the lives of many people that were shocked and traumatized by the sheer devastation of the tragedy."
Mr. Wolfensohn made clear that the immediate goal should be to ensure that those affected by the devastation have the immediate basics -- water, food, sanitation and medicine -- as the international community pulls together to help the affected countries make the transition from humanitarian relief to long-term recovery. "We need to help people get back on their feet so they can begin to rebuild their lives," said Mr. Wolfensohn.
Since 1980, the World Bank has financed 550 disaster-related projects worth US$40 billion. As in most natural disasters of recent years, Mr. Wolfensohn noted that it was the poor who were the most vulnerable to the effects of the tsunami, because the poor are the most likely to occupy dangerous, less desirable locations, such as flood plains, river banks, steep slopes and reclaimed land.
Mr. Wolfensohn told leaders attending the meeting that, in the World Bank's experience, four critical points should be taken into account for the region to successfully recover from the effects of the tsunami:
"First, we must ensure that communities are involved in assessing their needs and designing their own, homegrown recovery programs. Second, emergency assistance must be kept simple and focused on the most urgent recovery priorities. Third, the longer term recovery and development planning must integrate disaster risk reduction to avoid future losses from disasters. Fourth, the international community must work in a coordinated way and help countries with the transition from relief to recovery to reconstruction," said Mr. Wolfensohn.
Mr. Wolfensohn called the catastrophe "a true test for the international community and its willingness to help the most vulnerable and poorest in the world." He noted that this test comes just as we enter 2005 -- a year many have called "The Year of Development," falling 10 years away from the year 2015, when world leaders had promised to slash world poverty by half from its 1990 levels.
In the conclusion to his address, Mr. Wolfensohn made a call for partnership: "This massive rebuilding effort must humble all of us to work shoulder to shoulder. The challenge for all of us here is to remain united in the months and years ahead in helping the region recover from this tragedy. United in restoring hope for a better future. United in creating more security and peace for the poorest people in the region. United in making people less vulnerable to disasters in the future. We owe the victims of this tragedy nothing less than that."
(China.org.cn January 7, 2005)