A United Nations-backed disaster risk reduction forum wrapped up in Geneva today with a call to political leaders to take steps to cut in half by 2015 the number of deaths from natural hazards.
“Achieving targets like these is challenging but it can be done,” John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said as the Second Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction came to a close.
“Even now, some of the world’s poorest countries are reducing the impact of disasters. There is no excuse for failing to act. What we need is the collective will to invest and act now,” said Mr. Holmes, who is also Chair of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) partnership.
Specific targets were identified over the course of the meeting to cut deaths and economic losses brought on by disasters, including establishing clear national and international financial commitments for disaster risk reduction by 2010.
“At present the scope of activities to reduce disaster risks is often simply too small and suffers from limited institutional capacities, lack of skills and established tools and small budgets,” said Mr. Holmes.
“Put bluntly, many countries must dedicate more funds from national budgets – or suffer the consequences. This is also a must for the international community.”
Also, all major cities in disaster-prone areas were encouraged to include and enforce disaster risk reduction measures in their building and land use codes by 2015.
Some 236,000 people lost their lives last year in 300 disasters, while damages exceeded $180 billion, according to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).
In his message to the meeting earlier this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had pointed out that risks are growing, especially in poor countries. “In many parts of the world, we are losing ground. Moreover, it is clear that climate change is making things worse.”
Mr. Holmes also highlighted the growing threat of climate change which, he said, is recognized as a source of great risk but at the same time offers the potential for a ‘triple win’ – adaptation, disaster risk reduction and poverty reduction.
He stressed that disaster risk reduction must be an important part of the climate change deal that is to be sealed at the UN climate change conference to be held in Copenhagen in December.
The Global Platform was attended this year by some 1,800 participants from more than 300 governments and organizations, including political leaders, UN agencies and representatives from the scientific and academic communities.