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Resilience in Asia-Pacific

We must build the capacity of institutions in the Asia-Pacific region to cope with shocks.
Apr 10,2018
Discussions at the Fifth Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development renewed focus on how to build resilience in the face of emerging risks, informed by insights from a new report from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the Asian Development Bank and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

The Asia-Pacific region has seen extraordinary development in recent decades. It has seen improvements in access to health care, education, water and energy, and a significant reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty.
Against this backdrop, hard-won gains risk being reversed in a region that is already vulnerable to myriad shocks and stresses. Inequality and climate change are major threats to continued development in a region that is also being reshaped by demographic shifts, rural–urban transitions and technological advances.

Across the region, environmental sustainability is increasingly central to the development agenda. Last year, intense monsoons disrupted the lives of 40 million people in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, leaving nearly 1,300 dead and 1.1 million in need of relief. Severe floods brought Hong Kong, China and Mumbai to a standstill. Startling reminders of the toll of pollution in the region abound — including the haze created by forest fires in Southeast Asia, or huge masses of plastic floating in the Pacific.

Bold and transformative steps are urgently needed to shift the collective focus to resilience — the ability of societies to survive, adapt and grow in the face of stress and shocks, and to convert these risks into opportunities. These will be essential if the region is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Fortunately, there are encouraging signs that many national governments and communities are beginning to build resilience capacities to manage such shocks and are realizing the benefits. Our three organizations are collaborating with stakeholders across the region on many such initiatives.

Knowledge, information, education and effective communication can play a vital role in building anticipatory capacity. Many countries have set up early-warning systems to help them avoid or reduce the impact of hazards such as floods, landslides, storms and forest fires. However, greater efforts are needed to translate information and knowledge into concrete action, and to take social, cultural and gender considerations into account.

Diverse efforts to build adaptive capacity are also underway. Countries are adopting macroeconomic and fiscal policies that help them absorb shocks and diversify their economies. They are integrating risk information into key sectoral policies, as well as national planning and budgeting. Most countries have begun to incorporate climate risk into national and sectoral planning, including through national adaptation plans and Nationally Determined Contributions.

As we move toward the 2018 High-Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals, the theme of which is Transformation Toward Sustainable and Resilient Societies, the need to develop and execute concrete investment and implementation strategies takes on a renewed urgency. As countries participate in the Talanoa Dialogue to take stock of efforts to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, the links between a focus on resilience and sustainability in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and progress on climate change goals have renewed importance.

We all live in an increasingly unpredictable and complex world. Together, we must build the capacity of institutions in the region to cope with shocks, seize opportunities and pursue more sustainable and resilient development paths.

*The author is UN undersecretary general and executive secretary of Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. This op-ed was co-written by Bambang Susantono, vice-president for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development of the Asian Development Bank, and Haoliang Xu, UN assistant secretary general and UNDP director for Asia-Pacific, UNDP.

Shamshad Akhtar