Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Margareta Wahlström

Wednesday, 29th May 2013

I join with my colleagues in warmly welcoming Ms Margareta Wahlström to the House. I also welcome Mr. Gay Mitchell, with whom we had an excellent exchange on development issues in the House earlier this year. The work of Ms Wahlström as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, particularly with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and her role as the Secretary-General’s special response co-ordinator during the initial phase of the international reaction to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and her current role, which has brought her to the House today, as well as all of the work she has done in the past 30 years, show to us the expertise she has and the honour it is for us that she is addressing the House.

When we see the aftermath of events such as the 2004 tsunami, the Christchurch earthquake or, most recently, the Oklahoma tornado, we here in Ireland often feel quite insulated from the effects of such dangers because of our geographical position. However, reflecting on the work of the United Nations international strategy for disaster reduction, it is clear that in many ways this is a false sense of security which belies our ever-increasing levels of global interconnectedness, which, while bringing countless benefits, also increases our sensitivity to the effects of events originating far beyond our borders.

Several colleagues have raised the very important human consequences of such disasters. Specifically, I was struck by how a disaster can undermine long-term competitiveness and sustainability, not only at the epicentre of the disaster but also in those areas with which it shares economic ties. For example, in preparing for this contribution, I was very interested to read a report by Ms Wahlström’s organisation entitled “Shared Risk to Shared Value: The Business Case for Disaster Risk Reduction”, and I advise my colleagues that it is well worth a read. An example in the report cites how damage to one maker of microchips in Japan resulted in 150,000 fewer cars being manufactured in the United States. When one microchip manufacturer is damaged, that is the effect it has across the world. As another example, we saw in the wake of the floods in Thailand that global GDP fell by 3%. In an open economy such as ours, this is something with which we must be concerned or, as the report more succinctly states, we must be aware that disaster risk does not stop at the factory gate.

I am mindful that disasters disproportionately affect lower-income countries, communities and households, and those who benefit least from the wealth created owing to economic globalisation. I would be interested to hear Ms Wahlström’s opinion on the social justice aspects of reduction programmes and, specifically, how business interests can be used as a vector and whether she believes increasing business sensitivity towards investing in risk-prepared nations will encourage governments to become more risk aware. What does Ms Wahlström believe we can do at a national level to maintain the stability of our supply chain, which is an issue we need to consider?

In looking ahead to 2015 and the renegotiation of a new risk reduction framework, what does Ms Wahlström feel will be the key elements in which we, as a Seanad and as an Irish nation, can play a role when supporting this awareness and ensuring the plan will be fit for purpose?

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”