UN agencies campaign to reduce death rates in natural disasters

13 October 2004

Early warning about looming natural disasters and other advance planning could halve the rates of death and destruction they cause over the decade beginning in 2010 compared to the previous 10-year period, United Nations officials said today.

In a message to mark the International Day for Disaster Reduction, the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, stressed the importance of building a culture of prevention. "This could be done through further improvements in risk assessment, monitoring, forecasting for early warnings, capacity building and raising the awareness of the public as well as decision-makers through education and sharing of knowledge and information," he said.

In the decade from 1992 to 2001, natural disasters related to weather, climate and flooding killed 622,000 people and adversely affected another 2 billion, WMO said, quoting the statistics from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.

"The total value of economic losses over the same period is estimated at $446 billion, accounting for about 65 per cent of damage arising from all natural disasters," the agency said.

This year's disasters included hurricanes in the Caribbean and the United States, typhoons in the West Pacific, floods in East and Southeast Asia and the invasion of northwest Africa by locusts whose life cycles depend on weather conditions.

In his message, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Klaus Toepfer, called attention to the link between environmental neglect and poverty, which together turn natural hazards into disasters. "Time and again we see ordinary natural phenomena, such as heavy rains or prolonged dry spells, triggering extraordinary and sometimes catastrophic events."

Wetlands could reduce flooding, forested watersheds could help to prevent landslides, while mangroves and coral reefs could lessen the effect of coastal storms and extreme tides, he said. "The loss of these and other similarly important services has widespread implications for development."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphasized the need to learn from past mistakes. "All should work together to improve the chain of information and decision-making, so that their communities are better prepared should hazards strike again," he said.

Mr. Annan also said next year's World Conference on Disaster Reduction, to be held in Kobe, Japan, would provide an opportunity to establish clear guidelines for the future.


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