United Nations Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction

Geneva, Switzerland

Thank you, Mister Lo, for your very kind introduction.
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

I would like to begin by expressing my deepest gratitude to the special representative for disaster risk reduction, Madam Margareta Wahlstrom, and to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, UNISDR, for running the Sasakawa Award program for 27 years.

Let me also thank the panel of independent judges—Franklin McDonald, Murat Balamir, Rowena Hay and Saumura Tioulong—for the time you spent in selecting the winner, whose identity we will find out tonight. I also wish to offer my sincere appreciation to all staff members who cooperated in preparing for this ceremony.

Disasters take place around the world with unsettling frequency, disrupting the lives of those who are unfortunate to suffer their consequences. We cannot control the natural hazards that trigger disasters, such as earthquakes and storms.

But we can reduce the tendency for those hazards to become disasters by better managing human activities that could place us in harm’s way. This award was established 27 years ago to promote the activities of institutions and individuals who are working to create more resilient communities through disaster risk reduction.

“Acting as One” is this year’s theme. From experience, it is a theme I believe to be of great importance. Just over two years ago Japan was hit by a megaquake that caused damage to the northeastern region on a scale beyond all imagination. Major tsunamis swallowed up people, homes, and even entire villages in a matter of seconds.

During evacuation, people with special needs were at higher risk compared to the general population. There were incidences where people who were deaf or hard of hearing were left behind because they could not hear the emergency sirens or warnings to evacuate. As a result, in certain areas, death rates of persons with disabilities were two times higher than those of people without disabilities.

In order to reduce the risk of this happening again, The Nippon Foundation organized the UN Expert Group Meeting last year. Experts representing NGOs, universities, corporations, and television networks gathered together and made recommendations for raising awareness of information accessibility and including persons with disabilities within disaster response and management. As our next step, The Nippon Foundation plans to submit a proposal to include the Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction in the Post-2015 Hyogo Framework for Action.

Furthermore, in the post-disaster phase, when displaced individuals were taking refuge in emergency shelters, people with special needs had greater difficulty in getting the appropriate care. Many people with disabilities were confronted with inaccessible facilities and services, while many elderly fell ill from stress.

From this experience, The Nippon Foundation has been cooperating with businesses and local NGOs to conduct training workshops on how to operate accessible evacuation shelters in times of emergency. This kind of training did not exist prior to the disaster. 

Through these various activities, we are aiming to establish structures that induce all members of the community to “Act as One” not merely in times of disaster, but also with regard to disaster readiness. Incorporating the voices of various groups in the community will not only reduce the risks of vulnerable individuals, but also strengthen the resilience of the entire community.

I would like to use this occasion to express my deep respect, again, to all the organizations and individuals who have worked so hard—and “acted as one”—to reduce the risks from disasters.

Thank you.