Lives can be saved and the destruction of property minimized when natural disasters strike if governments invest adequate resources in disaster risk reduction measures, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said today.
In an op-ed published in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, Mr. Ban contrasted the consequences of the recent earthquake in ill-prepared Haiti with the effects a more powerful temblor in better-prepared Chile.
“Deaths were in the hundreds in Chile, despite the magnitude of the earthquake, at 8.8 on the Richter Scale, the fifth largest since records began. In Haiti, a less intense earthquake caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. Haiti had non-existent or unenforced building codes and very poor preparedness,” Mr. Ban wrote.
He noted that the world was seeing more and more intense natural disasters and stressed that the culture of disaster risk reduction and preparedness must spread.
The United Nations has made disaster risk reduction a priority through the Hyogo Framework for Action, a 10-year plan to make the world safer from disasters triggered by natural hazards, which was adopted by 168 governments in 2005.
The plan provides national authorities with a blueprint to assess and reduce risks through planning, training and better public education. Ensuring that key facilities like hospitals, schools and other public infrastructure meet certain safety standards is among the ways this can be done.
“Many governments have failed to follow through on the practical measures Hyogo proposes,” Ban wrote. “Some States argue that they cannot afford to embrace the prevention model. I say no country can afford to ignore it.”
Giving another example of disaster risk reduction efforts saving lives and mitigating damage, the Secretary-General recalled that Bangladesh lost more than 500,000 people to Cyclone Bhola in 1970. The country subsequently built 2,500 cyclone shelters on elevated concrete platforms and trained more than 32,000 volunteers to help in evacuations.
When Cyclone Sidr struck in 2007 with an enormous sea surge, the death toll was less than 4,000. Cyclone Nargis, a similar event in unprepared Myanmar in May 2008, left 140,000 peopled dead.
“The UN is ready to help governments build preparedness at the country and regional levels. Donor nations need to fund disaster risk reduction and preparedness measures,” Ban stressed. “Adaptation to climate change in particular means investing in systems for disaster reduction, preparedness and management,” he added.
“To prevent natural hazards turning into disasters, we must all act sooner and act smarter.”