With hundreds of people already dead and 30 million others affected by floods from this season’s monsoon rains in South Asia, the United Nations body that seeks to mitigate the impact of natural disasters today called on all governments to speed up preventive measures, from setting up early warning networks to enforcing stricter building codes.
“Disaster risk reduction is not an option, it is an urgent priority,” the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) warned.
“The problem today is that around the world vulnerability to disasters continues to increase, a situation that will worsen with climate change,” ISDR Director Sálvano Briceño said. “So we need to take action now to reduce the risks of devastating impacts on people and their livelihoods.”
He noted that recent reports by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were clear and unequivocal that global warming was occurring, almost certainly due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels, and equally unequivocal about what the future holds if action is not taken now.
ISDR stressed that while the focus today was on cutting green house gas emissions, which is very important, this would take hundreds of years, and in the meantime the world had to face up to the risk of increasing hazard events that would affect people, particularly poor people around the globe.
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential for cutting future disaster risks. But an immediate task is also to prepare for more extreme weather conditions – through disaster risk reduction programmes that include strengthening public risk awareness, early warning systems and community-based disaster preparedness,” Mr. Briceño said.
He called on governments to quickly implement the Hyogo Framework for Action endorsed in Kobe, Japan, by 168 governments shortly after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which offers a number of concrete measures to make communities and nations more resilient to any type of disaster, including storms, floods, droughts, heat and cold waves.
The Framework calls for establishing laws and policies for flood and water management including zoning regulations to avoid building houses on low-lying areas and to protect forests and wetlands that absorb and purify water; building hospitals, schools, water and electricity facilities in safe places; and strengthening preparedness plans for when disaster strikes.
As a result of climate change, many millions more people are likely to be flooded every year by the 2080s. The number affected will be largest in the mega-deltas of Asia and Africa and the Small Islands States, struck by the double threat of sea level rise and river flooding.
The situation could not be clearer, Mr Briceño said. Floods accounted for 84 per cent of all disaster deaths between 2000 and 2005 and caused $466 billion in losses over the decade 1992-2001, 65 per cent of the total of all disasters. Flooding in the United Kingdom alone this year is estimated to cost about $12 billion.
“Modest investment would go a long way to not only avoid heavy losses and protect livelihoods, but also to give citizens peace of mind when it begins to rain,” he added.
Meanwhile the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the floods in South Asia would affect the return to school of millions of children. In Bangladesh, more than 8,000 primary schools had been affected and 7,780 were currently closed because they were either damaged or hosting displaced families. In India schools serving several million children have been flooded out or are being used as shelters.
And the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that hundreds of thousands of people were at risk of diseases in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, including diarrhoea, conjunctivitis and skin and respiratory infections. It stressed the importance of monitoring for the possible spread of epidemics.