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Pakistan: UN official calls for ‘quantum leap’ in disaster risk reduction measures

Flood-affected Pakistanis and their livestock flee Sindh province
Flood-affected Pakistanis and their livestock flee Sindh province

Pakistan: UN official calls for ‘quantum leap’ in disaster risk reduction measures

The head of the United Nations disaster risk reduction agency arrives tomorrow in Pakistan to discuss possible measures to reduce the impact and recurrence of major floods, which have inundated much of the Asian country in the past two years.

Margareta Wahlström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, is scheduled to meet President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and senior disaster management and meteorological officials during a three-day visit.

Over the past month large areas of southern Pakistan have been swamped by flood waters, a year after an even bigger portion of the country was inundated, killing many people, destroying or damaging thousands homes and basic infrastructure and leaving farmland unusable.

The current floods have displaced an estimated 5.4 million people, according to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).

Speaking before her departure, Ms. Wahlström – who is also head of UNISDR – noted that flood risk in Pakistan can be predicted with great accuracy by modelling systems.

“Just as last year, this year’s flooding has been concentrated in rural areas with rapidly growing populations which lack early warning systems and preparedness measures,” she said.

“We now need a quantum leap in disaster risk reduction across all the country’s flood-prone provinces by all the actors.”

Ms. Wahlström said she was concerned by the rising economic and human toll from recent floods not only in Pakistan, but also in other Asian countries, such as the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Cambodia.

“Yet we all know that these floods are signposted long before their arrival. They are annual events heralded by the monsoon rains from June to September each year. If you know what to expect then adequate preparedness measures should pay off and save lives, homes and livelihoods.”

Ms. Wahlström’s comments echo those of Vladimir Sakharov, the environmental services section chief of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)/UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Emergency Partnership.

Mr. Sakharov yesterday told the annual board meeting in Geneva of Green Cross International, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dealing with security, poverty eradication and environmental degradation, that the series of recent typhoons in the Pacific region underscored the need for increased spending on disaster management.

“The international community spends a huge amount of money in response to natural disasters, instead of concentrating on a comprehensive risk management and preparedness,” he said.

“The increasing number and strength of extreme weather events and other emergencies means that more people, potentially, are threatened by such disasters. Adequate measures should be taken worldwide to make communities safer.”

He said governments can take actions such as boosting emergency preparedness training, developing early warning systems and considering the location and structural resilience of basic infrastructure so that they are not especially vulnerable to natural hazards.

“Future generations will hold us accountable for how we respond to critical issues like disaster preparedness and prevention.”