With Hurricane Dennis standing as a clear and present warning after its rampage through the Caribbean and south-east United States this weekend, a United Nations disaster expert today called on world governments to implement strategies drawn up at an international conference earlier this year to reduce the impact of natural calamities.
Sálvano Briceño, Director of the secretariat of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), welcomed the fact that the final communiqué of last week's G8 Summit of industrialized nations spoke of the need to reinforce such measures, noting that it was the first time that the G8 had mentioned the issue.
He urged governments to implement the "Hyogo Framework for Action: 2005-2015," adopted at the UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan, in January, which calls for putting disaster risk at the centre of national policies, strengthening the capacity of disaster-prone countries to address risk, and investing heavily in disaster preparedness.
Many countries implemented the international strategy and a good example was Cuba where Hurricane Dennis had hit strongly right in the middle and would have caused many more victims if the country had not been well prepared, he said. There were also no victims in the United States because of the preparations, he added.
The damage from Hurricane Dennis has already been witnessed and it is clear that it is going to be a heavy hurricane season, Mr. Briceño warned.
Elizabeth Byrs of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Dennis had devastated some 600 kilometres of Cuban territory. The official figure of persons killed in Cuba was 10, but if the hurricane, which affected some 8 million people out of the total population of 11.1 million, had hit a country which was less prepared, there could have been thousands of fatalities, she added.
OCHA has released $50,000 for emergency response coordination and the purchase of relief items in Cuba.
In June, Caribbean countries held a regional workshop in Cuba to plan a strategy for this year's hurricane season. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland attended the meeting and said his office in partnership with ISDR and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) was planning to establish a regional centre in Panama to help countries become more prepared for natural disasters.
"We cannot prevent hurricanes," he said then, "but we know when and where they will hit and can send experts to work with national authorities before they hit."