Ladies and Gentlemen,
What a pleasure, and a privilege, to welcome you all to this Ministerial Round Table. Let me from the outset express my profound condolences to the people of Turkey and Thailand. On Sunday this week, a 7.2 earthquake struck Turkey causing hundreds of deaths, injuring many others and causing a lot of destruction in terms of property and infrastructure. Over 100 aftershocks were recorded the same day. On the other hand, after three months of unrelenting rainfall and flooding, over 350 people have died in northern and central parts of the southeastern Thailand. Some 110,000 people have been evacuated from their homes since the monsoon began in August and the disaster is not over yet. It is really my hope that normalcy will return at the earliest.
The situation in Thailand and recent such events around the world have demonstrated that no country is immune to natural disasters. Last year alone, earthquakes, heat waves, floods, volcanoes, super typhoons, blizzards, landslides and droughts killed and maimed more than a million people in 2010 — the deadliest year in more than a generation. The Haitian earthquake, Russian heat wave, and Pakistani flooding were the biggest killers. Deadly quakes also struck Chile, Turkey, China, and Indonesia, to name but a few marking 2010 as one of the most active seismic years in decades.
By mid-December of 2010, the world had experienced 20 earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or higher, compared to the average of 16 per year in previous years. Flooding alone killed more than 7’000 people in 59 countries. Countries that were struck by disasters include China, Italy, India, Colombia, Chad and others. Super Typhoon Megi with heavy rains and winds of up to 260 kilometers per hour devastated the Philippines and parts of China.
The year 2011 has been no exception. In fact, the year 2011 has already been recorded as the costliest year ever in terms of damages caused by nature. Natural disaster damages for 2011 are five times higher than the past 10 year’s average, and double 2010’s total of $130 billion. Of course, the memories of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami are still very fresh in our minds.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Having said that let me give you the good news. We are very fortunate to have a distinguished panel of Ministers from all over the world who will share with us views on how we could harness Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to detect, predict, monitor, and respond to natural disasters. If you ask me whether ICT has the ability to SAVE human lives, the answer is a BIG YES! I believe that if we all share experiences, as we are trying to do here, and combine it with unyielding resolve to transform words into action, we can help save millions of lives across the globe.
The timing of this round table is good. Our latest statistics report that one third of the world’s 7 billion people are now Internet users and 45% of them are under the age of 25. The developing world has as of today, registered 6 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions accounting for 87% global penetration and 79% penetration in developing countries. So, universal access is no longer a myth – the world is making good progress.
Let me, at this point, invite each of our distinguished panelists to briefly take the floor to share their thoughts. I will then open the floor for questions and answers. Each of the panelists will be guided by the following questions:
• What do you see as the vital priorities in emergency preparedness and planning?
• How does disaster response and mitigation planning apply in your country? What sort of frameworks do you have in place, and do these include telecommunications?
• Are you confident in the robustness of your national information infrastructure to withstand natural disaster?
• What are the key messages and priorities you wish to transmit to ITU management on this vital issue?
Geneva, Switzerland 10/27/2011