UN official warns of 'enormous task' to prevent natural disasters

8 December 2004

After a year of devastating natural disasters, from the earthquake in Bam, Iran, to the recent typhoons in the Philippines, the United Nations' most senior humanitarian official warned today that the world faces an "enormous task" in preventing and preparing for these emergencies while mitigating their after-effects on an increasingly vulnerable population.

Jan Egeland, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, told a press conference in Geneva that the number of people at risk from disasters is rising mainly, experts say, because economic migration has forced people to settle in large numbers in high-risk cities.

More than 1,200 delegates from 120 countries will gather next month for the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan, where they are expected to agree to a 10-year global action plan to remove the worst effects of natural disasters.

"For once there will be world resources focusing on prevention through which the world can become a better place," Mr. Egeland said, adding he expected that donor nations would increase their financial support after the conference.

Officials from Japan, Iran and Cuba are scheduled to conduct sessions explaining the lessons they have learned on disaster preparation and reduction after the deadly Bam earthquake and the series of typhoons and hurricanes that struck the Caribbean and East Asian regions this year.

The head of the UN disaster-reduction body, Sálvano Briceño, told the same press conference in Geneva that while natural hazards can never be entirely eliminated, their impact can be "reduced enormously" so long as there is appropriate investment in environmental management.

Mr. Briceño, Director of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), also warned that the continuing impact of natural disasters was hurting the attempts of many countries to lift their citizens out of poverty. "One thing natural disasters did was to keep the poor poor," he said.

ISDR has reported that migrants are increasingly willing to settle in high-risk areas, such as over-flooding plains or along seismic faults, because so many rural regions lack basic services and economic opportunities.


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