On October 10, ahead of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, Friendship brought together grassroots actors in disaster management together with the Honourable Minister for Disaster Management and Relief, high officials from the Department of Disaster Management and major national and international development organisations. The event highlighted the unheard voices at the forefront of the struggle against climate change. Fifty-three local and regional development organisations presented their situations and recommendations to the roundtable.

Her Royal Highness Princess Maria-Esmeralda of Belgium attended the event online. In her address, she said that the marginalised bear the brunt of climate disasters, but we have hope if we listen to regional communities at the forefront of the climate crisis. This is a transcript of her speech.

I am very pleased to be with you today and share a little bit of what we can all do.

We are really in the middle of three crises: the pandemic, the economic global crisis, and the climate crisis—which has not disappeared. We know that the pandemic will eventually disappear and that the economic recovery will happen. The climate crisis is not going to disappear. The only way we can mitigate its effect is by radical and immediate change and actions.

We are in fact right now in an ecological emergency. We can see the fires everywhere in the world, the flooding, the cyclones, extreme weather events together with the massive destruction of our ecosystem and loss of biodiversity which is really our life support. Because, make no mistake, nature will recover. It has always done so through the centuries. But it is really the human species which might disappear. And we are already having our essential human rights violated by the climate crisis. Our rights to food, water, housing, health.

And we cannot talk about this climate emergency without talking about justice. Yes, the effects of climate change are mostly felt in the south, in countries which have contributed less to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, it is the industrialised countries which account for half of the climate footprint of the world. We have China with 28%, the USA 13% and Europe with 9%. And if you take a country like Bangladesh, you can see that you have 60% of the victims of cyclones in the world. So, this is really what I call the climate injustice. We are not equal in the face of climate change or in the face of the pandemic. It’s always the most vulnerable, the poorest who bear the brunt. There is also gender injustice because women are more impacted because of their role in society, working in the fields, getting the food and water.

But I strongly believe that there are many solutions, and those solutions are on the ground, in the field with the grassroots movements. We can see that change can happen from bottom up. Of course, we need also change from top to bottom with decisions from the government. But we have to listen to the voice of the people in the field who know better. This is also why I joined Friendship a few years ago and I am so privileged to work for an NGO which is really touching and transforming lives of millions in the country with their education program, with health, with climate mitigation, and response to emergency and disasters. Under the leadership of Runa Khan who is really an inspirational changemaker, the team of Friendship, men and women, are doing an extraordinary job on the ground and I really feel happy to be part of it as the chair of Friendship Belgium.

And, I repeat, we have so much to learn from regional communities who really know how to deal with all those problems, delivering solutions, respect and hope.

Thank you very much.