“The strength of a people is measured by the well-being of its weakest members: for a better protection of those displaced by natural disaster” (en)


Genève, 12.10.2015 - Discours d'ouverture du Conseiller fédéral Didier Burkhalter à la conférence de clôture de l'Initiative Nansen - Seul le texte prononcé fait foi

Orateur: Didier Burkhalter

@ DFAE @

Ladies and gentlemen,

In October 2002, heavy rainfall caused a landslide on the Simplon mountainside, in Southern Switzerland. A large part of a village called Gondo was covered by an avalanche of rocks and mud. Thirteen people died and almost all the 165 survivors left the village. The school, the stores, the roads, everything was destroyed. The mountain had actually carried away the identity of an entire landscape.

The tragedy of Gondo was terrible for every single victim and their families. But it was a comparatively small event: many other instances of natural disasters injure, kill or displace millions of people every year. Between 2008 and 2014, for instance, more than 184 million people were displaced by natural disasters – that is more than 26 million people each year, or one individual every second!

Disaster-induced displacement is a reality. With climate change, the numbers of people affected are likely to increase even more.

Over the years, many governments, organisations and civil society have developed remarkable experience in preparing for natural hazards. They focus on what is too often neglected: prevention and preparedness.

However, the national and international response still far too often remains minimal, is ad hoc or sometimes even fully lacking.

More needs to be done to address disaster-induced displacement. More needs to be done to better protect men, women and children. Here in Switzerland, we have seen it with our mountains and rivers, and we see it in so many other places in the world: Natural hazards cannot be avoided, but the human suffering they cause can be minimised or avoided.

Prevention - Sendai

Switzerland remains convinced that prevention, in the form of disaster risk reduction, is of paramount importance. Measures aimed at reducing disaster risks are cost effective. They are a smart investment and they save lives.

As many of the States represented here today underscored in March this year at the UN Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, we need to prevent disasters as far ahead as we can. To this end, Switzerland is engaged in disaster risk reduction programmes in many countries of the world, for example by building earthquake-resistant schools in places such as Haiti, Sri Lanka or Myanmar.

Promoting and strengthening community resilience is a key factor in reducing disaster-induced displacement.

However, despite preventive measures, natural hazards and climate change will continue to cause more displacement. With rising global temperatures, more frequent extreme weather events, population growth and more and more people living in hazardous zones, we need to think about those that are forced to flee their homes.

This is why we recognized in Sendai that helping people to relocate to safer places might sometimes be necessary to avoid loss of life and other consequences of disasters.

Preparedness and protection - Nansen

Together with the Government of Norway, Switzerland decided to address this protection gap. To this end, we announced a joint pledge at the ministerial conference of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in December 2011.

We committed ourselves to cooperate with interested States and other relevant actors with the aim of obtaining a better understanding of such cross-border movements at relevant regional and sub-regional levels, identifying best practices and developing consensus on how best to assist and protect people affected.

In October 2012, Switzerland and Norway launched the Nansen Initiative: a consultation process, with a bottom-up approach, aimed at ensuring consensus on how to better offer protection for people who are forced to flee as a consequence of disasters and climate change.

The process has been led by a group of like-minded States and particularly affected countries, namely Costa Rica, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Mexico, as well as Australia, Germany, and Kenya.

This cross-regional group is of great importance in providing strategic guidance in the framework of the Nansen-process. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the States involved for their valuable input and strong support as regional champions, and especially the Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Kenya, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Ecuador as hosts of the seven regional consultations. At the same time, I would also like to thank IOM and UNHCR for their support throughout the entire process.

These consultations, together with a series of civil society meetings, have allowed us to gather, from the field, a vast range of insights on the disaster dynamics in the different regions as well as on existing effective practices and experiences in the affected countries throughout the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Today’s conference marks the culmination of the Nansen process. This is a good moment to take stock of the work done and lay out the way ahead. I would like to highlight four points:

1. The inclusive nature of the Nansen Initiative
2. The global dialogue on human mobility in the context of disasters and climate change
3. The importance of regional responses
4. The outcome document, that is the Protection Agenda

First, one of the key strengths of the Nansen Initiative is its inclusive nature: During the regional consultations, the Nansen Initiative reached out widely and consulted with governments and civil society from more than one hundred countries.

This, together with input from experts and research commissioned by the Nansen Initiative, provides us with a comprehensive overview on the current situation of cross-border disaster-induced displacement in the different regions.

At the same time, because disaster-induced displacement is a transversal issue, the Nansen Initiative has also reached out to a broad range of actors from different thematic fields – migration, humanitarian action, environmental policies and others.

For the drafting of a comprehensive response to disaster-induced displacement, it is crucial to involve actors and expertise from all relevant fields. I am convinced that one of the major achievements of the Nansen Initiative is that it tears down thematic silos. It stimulates thinking across different fields, always with one common aim: to offer better protection to the people who have been displaced and are suffering from disasters and the consequences of climate change.

Second, the Nansen Initiative has kick-started a global dialogue on human mobility in the context of disasters and climate change. The aim behind this was to create a common understanding on how to address the needs of disaster-displaced persons across the globe.

While it has focused on the policy level, rather than the implementation, it also aimed to anchor the findings and conclusions in relevant existing regional and international processes.

In this regard, I would like to mention three important instances where States participating in the Nansen Initiative-process have pushed, together with others, in order to advance the topic of human mobility in the context of disaster and climate change:

- As a first example, in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Cartagena+30 process has adopted a common roadmap to address new displacement trends, including climate change and natural disasters.

- Another example is the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction already mentioned. It highlights the importance of including the needs of people displaced, or at risked of being displaced, by disaster into the efforts to reduce disaster risk.

- A third and current example is the World Humanitarian Summit, whose Global Consultation will be held here in Geneva in the next couple of days. The Nansen Initiative has presented its findings at different regional consultations of the World Humanitarian Summit and works together with interested States and relevant stakeholders in order to strengthen preparedness, response and coordination capacity within the humanitarian system.

Looking into the future, an important next step will be the climate negotiations in view of the COP21-Conference in Paris: concrete examples such as land loss due to coastal erosion in Bangladesh, which is caused by sea level rise, clearly shows that displacement in the context of climate change is a reality today and that it is likely to grow in the future, particularly if global warming continues to increase.

Climate change-related displacement must therefore remain high up on the agenda of the Parties to the UNFCCC. In this regard, Switzerland, together with like-minded States, will strongly advocate for a new climate regime which decreases greenhouse gas emissions as well as enables adaptation to the effects of climate change.

Third, important to mention is the considerable regional diversity ‒ not only with regard to the phenomenon of cross-border disaster-induced displacement itself but also with regard to the experiences and responses. As is so often the case, there is no one-size-fits-all solution: regional responses are needed.

Good examples already exist; I will mention one in particular: countries in Central America are exposed to a wide variety of natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, which have displaced people both within their own countries as well as across international borders.

The States in the region have set up a diverse set of temporary protection mechanisms for cross-border disaster-induced displacement, such as humanitarian visas.

In order to strengthen and harmonise these mechanisms, the Regional Conference on Migration, which is composed of eleven countries from Central and North America and the Dominican Republic, has organised a workshop with the aim of identifying best practices regarding temporary protection measures.

Such broad, regional initiatives are exactly what the Nansen Initiative seeks to promote. I encourage committed countries to take up leadership as regional champions in order to make use of the findings of the Nansen Initiative and implement the Protection Agenda in accordance with their regional realities.

Fourth, and finally, at the heart of this Global Consultation is the “Agenda for the Protection of Persons displaced in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change”.
The term “protection” emphasizes that people are at the centre of the Nansen Initiative. The word “agenda” indicates that the document identifies what can be done now and in the future to address disaster-induced displacement.

Rather than creating a new, binding international convention on displacement, the Protection Agenda is a non-binding text that consolidates the experiences made in different regions of the world with cross-border displacement.

The Agenda offers for the first time a comprehensive picture of the current situation of cross-border, disaster-induced displacement. It also identifies existing best practices by States and regional organizations.

The Agenda provides a tool box for affected countries, the international community and other key actors. It is so-to-say an invitation to learn from the experiences of others, to become more consistent and enhance action.

Finally, the Agenda points out the existing gaps, where future action should be focused.

Addressing these normative, institutional, operational and knowledge gaps and implementing the Protection Agenda is our common task. We can do more if we proceed together. We owe it to all those that are forced to flee from the forces of nature. It is time to act now.

Ladies and gentlemen,

With today’s conference, the Nansen Initiative comes to a conclusion; with the presentation and validation of the Agenda, Switzerland and Norway have fulfilled their pledge from 2011.

However, this Global Consultation should not be considered as the end of the Nansen Initiative, but rather as a first step.

We now enter a new phase: considerable headway has been made during the last three years. It will now be important to implement the Agenda and fill the gaps identified.
Switzerland will remain engaged on the topic in the future. Displacement in the context of disasters and related to climate change will continue to be a top priority for my country.

With so many crises and challenges confronting us today, our commitment to fostering dialogue and inclusive solutions is more important than ever.

We are intensively engaged in building up a group of States and other key stakeholders, which will carry on, with the work started by the Nansen Initiative.

Regional champions will lead the discussion on implementation of the findings of the Nansen Initiative and the effective practices identified in the Protection Agenda. Furthermore, it is important to strengthen the cooperation between relevant international organizations, in particular UNHCR and IOM.

At least as important will be the follow-up at the national level. It is the sovereign decision of each State to pick up and implement the findings of the Nansen Initiative that are most relevant to them and that will offer the best protection to those that have been forced to flee, to the most vulnerable and weakest members of our societies.

A guiding principle that could inspire our action for the future is placed at the beginning of the Swiss constitution: “the strength of a people is measured by the well-being of its weakest members”.

I thank you.


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