Administrator Samantha Power at the International Conference on Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (ICDRI) 2022

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Friday, May 6, 2022

KAMAL KISHORE: Thank you, Veena. And now onto what everyone here is waiting for. I have the pleasure to introduce U.S. Co-Chair of CDRI's Governing Council, USAID Administrator Samantha Power. She currently serves as the 19th Administrator of USAID. Before joining [the] Biden Administration, she was the Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the William D. Zabel Professor of Practice in Human Rights at Harvard Law School.

From 2013 to 2017, she served as the 28th U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. From 2009 to 2013, she served on the National Security Council staff as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. She has a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. In fact, began her career as a war correspondent. She was the founding Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She is an author and editor of multiple books and she received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. I now invite you to listen to Administrator Power deliver her keynote address. Over to you, Madam.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. Confirming my audio is working.

MR. KISHORE: Yes.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Okay, perfect. I see a red microphone, which is always very daunting, especially this early in the morning here. I feel really privileged to be able to address you and I'd like to thank first Dr. P.K. Mishra, the CDRI Co-Chair; Veena Reddy, our stellar Mission Director here in India, and you, Kamal Kishore, who has put so much heart and intellect and rigor into CDRI and clearly has shaped it into what it is today.

I'd also like to extend my appreciation to Prime Minister Modi for his commitment to tackle the issue of climate and disaster resilience and to galvanize the world's attention to one of the most important issues facing our world. How we would stand climate change today while doing all we can to prevent it from getting worse tomorrow.

This conference, of course, takes on special resonance as a brutal heatwave grips much of the subcontinent, with record setting average temperatures reaching 45 degrees in Delhi, not much relief at night, I gather, and water coming out of taps hot to touch. Here in the United States, we are breaking records of our own and none worth bragging about.

Last year we experienced 20 separate billion dollar weather and climate disasters, second highest ever following only 2020. The list of events reads like a series of plagues: massive drought and heat wave across the western U.S. – both flooding and wildfires in California, tropical cyclones, tornadoes, and in global headlines, a winter storm that plunged Texas into a deep freeze.

But measuring these losses just in dollars, as this conference makes clear, is extremely short sighted. Those 20 climate shocks led to a collective 688 direct and indirect deaths, the most in over a decade, and more than doubled the number from the year before. It has been said, but it bears repeating: climate change is here. In fact, in the IPCC's latest report aptly titled, "Code Red," it was predicted that absent a shift in our current trajectory, the average six year old – someone born just three years after my own daughter – will live through nearly three times as many climate disasters as her grandparents.

The answer must be mitigating, of course, and building resilience. We, the collective 35 members of the CDRI gathered today, along with two private sector coalitions representing 400 companies, must invest, must learn from each other, we must recruit new partners to harden our infrastructure against the shocks we know our planet has in store.

From the U.S. perspective, our own experience can be instructive. When Hurricane Sandy made landfall in 2012, one of the city's substations erupted in a bright flash before parts of the city were plunged into darkness. More than 7 million gallons of salt water poured into a subway tunnel and the city's flagship public hospital had to be evacuated for the first time in its history. In response, state and federal authorities invested billions to prioritize resilient infrastructure and build for the climate of tomorrow, not the climate of yesterday. The substation has been rebuilt with much of the critical infrastructure raised as high as 10 meters off the ground.

In repairing the subway tunnel, Kevlar curtains and submarine doors have been used to block more than 3,000 subterranean openings and a new flood barrier protecting the hospital so that the next time a storm strikes, patients are able to shelter in place rather than evacuate.

With the passage of President Biden's infrastructure bill last year, our Federal Agency for Disaster Management, FEMA, will provide $6.8 billion to invest in steps like this – community resilience measures that will reduce suffering and avoid even higher damages from future disasters. But no one country's investments or experience safeguard all the people who would be threatened by future climate shocks. During my tenure as CDRI Co-Chair, I really hope to expand the CDRI's membership beyond the additional 20 countries and hundreds of private sector partners who have recently joined this alliance.

Among the more than 100 countries where USAID works, only 16 are currently CDRI members. Even as we're working to expand CDRI's ranks, we are also working to support its leadership and its goals. Our multi-year investment in CDRI's Secretariat has led to the embedding of key technical specialists, new studies, and new research programs. And through our investments around the world, together with partner countries, we have developed more resilient infrastructure that can protect people during these future disasters we know are coming.

We're contributing to the development of a new renewable energy infrastructure in the Caribbean and in sub-Saharan Africa that can keep the lights on and power health care facilities even when storms hit. In Bangladesh, where up to 30 percent of agricultural harvests are now lost each year due to inadequate infrastructure, we're helping build rural roads, cold storage facilities, and irrigation systems to make the country's farmers more productive so that they can withstand weather that might hurt their yields. And in Malawi, we're expanding urban schools and building new rural schools that won't flatten in an earthquake, giving kids returning from COVID lockdowns a safe place to learn.

These are meaningful efforts, I think, that will help thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people, but they hold the promise to be even more powerful if we extend their lessons to all of our partners around the world. That is the vision that inspired CDRI, and that is the goal we should all strive to reach so that my daughter and all the world's sons and daughters can thrive in the face of climate shocks we know they are bound to face.

Thank you so much, Kamal and Veena.

Last updated: May 06, 2022

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