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UN and other experts call for more commitment to reduce the impact of natural disasters

UN and other experts call for more commitment to reduce the impact of natural disasters

USG Jan Egeland briefs journalists
Ahead of tomorrow’s International Day of Disaster Reduction, the United Nations top aid official and other experts have urged world leaders to improve efforts to deal with natural hazards and their impact on hundreds of millions of people, saying progress has been made but warning that more needs to be done.

“The good news is that country after country is proving that you can relatively easily prevent loss of life, you can relatively easily prevent the worst consequences of natural disasters… We all have to do more and last year showed that in both the poor countries and the rich countries more has to be done,” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland told a joint press conference today in New York.

Mr. Egelend, along with other heads of agencies, has been championing disaster risk reduction ever since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, when experts said scores of thousands of the more than 200,000 dead could have been saved if early warning systems had existed and allowed them to escape to higher ground in the hours between the earthquake that triggered the giant waves and their landfall.

“I have seen how much we have made progress in doing emergency relief work and I’ve felt everyday how little has really been done in the past to reduce disaster risk and to prevent disasters from taking so many livelihoods, devastating so many communities,” he said.

In particular, Mr. Egeland highlighted the “unique partnership” –– involving various UN and other organizations –– involved in the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), citing one example of its impact as helping ensure that no school in Pakistan is rebuilt following last year’s deadly earthquake unless it is safer or resistant to such a disaster.

Speaking alongside Mr. Egeland were Katherine Sierra, Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank and Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), both of whom also emphasized that more attention must be paid to “upstream” work to prepare communities at risk of natural disasters, especially in the poorest countries.

As an indication of what more could be done, they pointed to the new Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, established by the World Bank in partnership with ISDR, and launched last week. The facility, which has already received start-up funding from the World Bank and commitments of support from a variety of donor countries, will help low-and-middle income countries ensure that disaster prevention policies are included in their national development strategies.

“Our objective with this Facility is to work at two levels: globally, we will partner with the ISDR to produce and distribute best practice knowledge and information about disaster risk prevention and mitigation,” said Ms. Sierra. “As well, we will work with client countries as they foster their own country systems and capacities in order to mainstream disaster risk reduction and recovery in their own development planning and policies.”

The WMO’s Mr. Jarraud emphasized the importance of disaster preparedness plans in terms of the broader issue of development, and also praised the ISDR as a “critical framework for collaborations and partnerships” in enabling communities to be better prepared, including with early warning systems.

"Disaster prevention and preparedness are essential for achieving the development goals, particularly in the least developed countries. WMO activities and programmes have resulted in significant scientific and technical advances in meteorology and hydrology allowing for a quantum leap forward in reducing loss of life, and property particularly through enhanced capacities for risk assessment and early warning systems.”