China's experience in Sichuan offers many lessons. First, early measures to restore social services and livelihoods help prevent further crises and accelerate future development. Disaster response strategies need to bridge the gap between initial emergency relief and the longer-term challenge of reconstruction.
Second, recovery strategies need to target the poorest and most vulnerable groups, which are often the hardest to reach and at most risk of exclusion from recovery processes. These include women, children, the elderly and ethnic groups.
Third, recovery is most effective when a strong government response is matched by community participation. In Sichuan, civil organizations played an unprecedented and instrumental role in the recovery process, demonstrating that ordinary people can save lives and restore the dignity of those most in need.
Fourth, sustained recovery relies on economic growth driven by private enterprises. Robust, well-prepared businesses bring resources, expertise and information to the recovery process, creating jobs and strengthening local economies.
Finally, complex emergencies benefit from international support and expertise, even in highly capable countries like China. In Wencuan, China's decision to request and facilitate international emergency relief and longer-term support enhanced the pace and quality of recovery.
One such international partner, the United Nations, mobilized nearly $80m million to help the affected communities "build back better" through early recovery frameworks, livelihood assistance, public health response, educational and environmental rehabilitation, as well as capacity building in community-based disaster risk management.
Leveraging its 30-year presence in China, international development expertise and strong relationships with government and civil society partners, the UN will continue to help China promote more resilient development by strengthening national, regional and local capacities for disaster risk management.
Disasters are, increasingly, global issues that demand global solutions. Through its development programs, the UN is committed to building global partnerships to combat the trans-boundary economic, social and human security dimensions of disaster risk.
Over the next five years, the new UN Development Framework (UNDAF) 2011-2015 will support innovative government, private sector and civil society partnerships to promote risk-conscious development, community-based disaster risk reduction; climate change adaptation; and market-based solutions for disaster prevention and preparedness.
An enduring legacy of the Wenchuan tragedy will be the heightened contribution China can make to this goal, by sharing its experiences internationally, helping other developing countries devise better disaster prevention policies, and supporting efforts to create strong regional institutional arrangements.
Wenchuan has taught us that overcoming catastrophe requires vision and leadership from all levels of society. This is not an insurmountable challenge if we work together. The more closely the international community cooperates to create a truly global response to disasters, the better prepared we will be when they strike - as lamentably, they inevitably will.
Renata Dessallien is the UN resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative in China.