Annan urges global emphasis on disaster planning to mitigate death and destruction

27 September 2005

More than 242,000 people were killed last year mostly in December's Indian Ocean tsunami and 158 million people were injured by natural disasters, whose toll could have been mitigated through better planning, risk reduction and response, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a new report. Economic damage from natural disasters last year totalled $94 billion, the report also says.

More than 242,000 people were killed last year mostly in December's Indian Ocean tsunami and 158 million people were injured by natural disasters, whose toll could have been mitigated through better planning, risk reduction and response, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a new report. Economic damage from natural disasters last year totalled $94 billion, the report also says.

"Disasters are, to a great extent, determined by human action, or the lack of it," Mr. Annan says in a report to the General Assembly. The emphasis on natural disasters is necessary he says, because their incidence and severity is increasing due to climate change, environmental degradation, inappropriate development patterns and inadequate mitigation and preparedness systems.

"Urban and agricultural frontier expansion have transformed surrounding environments in ways that generate new hazard patterns," he says, noting that the report uses the term "disasters associated with natural hazards" to underscore the human role. "The connection between disasters and inappropriate development models is well documented," he adds.

Disasters as a result of flooding affected more than 132 million people around the world in 2004, with extreme flooding in Bangladesh, hurricanes in the Caribbean, and flash floods in the Philippines and Guyana, displacing millions of people, destroying tens of thousands of their homes, and affecting their livelihoods.

Heavy snowfalls in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan led to hundreds of deaths and the destruction of livelihoods. Droughts affected more than 20 million people worldwide, causing food needs and exacerbating the vulnerability of populations to unstable political conditions. Yet, international response to many of these disasters did not come until "destruction was well under way," Mr. Annan says.

He also criticizes lack of world reaction to small-scale disasters "far from the media or political spotlight" where the brunt of response and recovery effort was borne by the affected communities and countries in favour of high-profile emergencies.

The proof is in the funding he says, because 82 per cent of the $1.26 billion needed for recovery in the Indian Ocean tsunami was provided by donors, but only 5.3 per cent of the $7.5 million needed for drought victims in Djibouti was provided.

Mr. Annan also urges greater emphasis on regional organizations and coordination such as the Eastern Caribbean Donor Group which was started to coordinate emergency assistance in the area, as well as steps that nations should take to ease administrative bottlenecks during an emergency, such as relaxing normal customs and immigration procedures in the aftermath of a disaster.

Preparedness funding and post-disaster resource mobilization need to be available to vulnerable countries, and should be increased by the international community he adds, noting that donors responded generously through a flash appeal for parts of South-East Asia affected by the tsunami, easing their recovery. But because India and Thailand did not participate in the appeal, Mr. Annan says they reported "great difficulties in raising resources" for recovery.

 

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