Mountain communities, exposed to high rain and snowfalls as well as the landslides and avalanches that often result from them, are particularly vulnerable to the threat of natural disasters, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message today to mark the International Day for Disaster Reduction.
The theme for this year's Day is "Disaster reduction for sustainable mountain development," and is linked to the International Year of Mountains being observed in 2002.
In his message, the Secretary-General noted that poverty has forced people to build homes on hazard-prone slopes, and demographic pressures have pushed them to settle at the feet of volcanoes and in other seismically active areas.
"Poor land-use planning, environmental mismanagement, the lack of regulatory mechanisms and other human activities increase the risk that a disaster will occur, and worsen their effects when they do," the Secretary-General warned.
He urged the international community to respond to the challenge of keeping these communities out of harm's way, saying that prevention must the priority in implementation of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
"Early warning and risk reduction measures are helping to reduce significantly the number of people who lose their lives to disaster," he said. "New planning and forecasting tools are helping to mitigate the devastation wrought regularly by floods."
Echoing that theme, the President of the General Assembly, Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic, stressed that "the international community has a big responsibility in the process of disaster reduction through assisting the developing countries in capacity building" and that UN Member States needed to collaborate on major environmental threats like global climate change.
At the same time, Mr. Kavan noted several positive signs. “As I have personally seen during the floods in my country, there are several very visible examples of cooperation in the field of post-disaster help and mitigation throughout the international community,” he said. “This gives me hope concerning future coordinated global efforts to decrease human, environmental, economic and social losses from disasters.”