I just returned to Sendai in Japan to attend the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. I have been invited by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as one of three UN Global Champions for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), along with former President of Finland, Tarja Halonen, and former President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
As the bullet train entered the Sendai city station, it started snowing, reminding me of my first trip to the area in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. At the time, exactly four years ago, it was also snowing -making it even harder for the country to cope with the triple disaster, which took over 18,000 lives and left over half a million people homeless.
Today the physical damage to the city is no longer visible but the psychological trauma of the people can still be felt. Yet, rather than erasing painful memories, people here realise they should preserve them so as to be better prepared for when disaster strikes again. Every morning there are stories about the Great East Japan Earthquake during prime time on one of the most popular TV stations. Here, in Sendai, I am attending a ceremony where together with local kids and students we are planting young oak trees. They will grow up together with these trees to ensure that all remember and are prepared.
This is also what Japan has done as a nation for the world. After the Kobe earthquake in 1995 Japan worked to rebuild and to make itself more resilient to future disasters. But it also called on the world to engage in a process that ultimately gave birth to the Hyogo Framework for Action in 2005. It has turned its own tragic experience into a big lesson for all of us. Ten years later the Hyogo Framework is due for renewal, and Japan for a second time is leading the world to build more resilient societies for the more turbulent climate scientists predict.
We in Europe are not spared by the trend of more frequent and more devastating disasters. Since 2002 they caused the EU over 80 000 deaths and over 100 billion euro in economic losses. In 2013, Central Europe suffered once-in-a-century floods for the second time in just 13 years. In 2014, Eastern Europe was again strongly affected by floods: they were most dramatic in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, but Bulgaria and Romania ware also severely affected.
Here, in Sendai, we have a chance to set the world on a clear course for enhanced disaster resilience. It's a chance not to be missed. We need to see integration of disaster risk management across all policies and promoted at all levels of our societies - from the individual to the highest public office. We need more effective investment, with more money spent to prevent disasters from happening and to reduce the damage they cause. We need to build solidarity in the world and in our communities, and help those most vulnerable to the impact of disasters. And we need nations to set themselves targets for cutting down the number of disaster deaths, economic losses and infrastructure damage by 2030, so we can follow up on progress we make in implementation.
A strong signal from Sendai is needed in its own right - but also to set the tone for the other major events that will shape the future of the planet, or rather our own future. We are providing a building block for the success of the other important negotiations on financing for development, sustainability and climate change also due to culminate in 2015 and the World Humanitarian Summit of 2016.. So may the Sendai seeds grow fast and tall!