|Disaster planning could save
By Slobodan Simonovic
we have seen from the Asian tsunami, disasters can pose so
many challenges to humanity.
Around the world, the
loss of life and economic well-being due to disasters are on
the rise with grave consequences for the survival, dignity,
and livelihood of individuals, in particular for the poor and
for the impact on hard-won development gains.
Increasingly, there is recognition that more must be
done to reduce disaster risks.
Measures must be
integrated into policies, plans and programs for sustainable
development and poverty reduction, and supported through
improved cooperation at all levels.
In January, barely
two weeks after the tsunami, 4,500 delegates from 170
governments and NGOs along with more than 40 ministers
attended the United Nations World Conference on Disaster
Reduction in Kobe, Japan.
In the words of UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan, “Rarely has tragedy made a conference so
topical and timely”.
The conference generated four
§ Review of the Yokohama Strategy and
Plan of Action for a Safer World
§ A program outcome
document: “Building the resilience of nations and communities
to disasters: Hyogo Framework for action 2005–2015”
§ A common statement on the Indian Ocean
Disaster: Risk Reduction for a Safer Future.
report indicated the year 2004 was the second costliest
disaster year on record - $140 billion in economic losses. It
was also the costliest natural catastrophe year ever for the
insurance industry - $40 billion in insured losses.
Economic losses include $73 billion in Asia (mainly
earthquake) and $63 billion in North and South America. Losses
were dominated by weather-related disasters and there are
warnings that climate change will develop into a serious
danger unless radical measures are taken soon.
disasters in 2004 include an earthquake in Japan ($10 billion
in losses), tsunami in the Indian Ocean, four hurricanes that
hit Florida; and extreme floods that killed more than 2,000
people in the Caribbean and more than 2,500 in South Asia.
Important messages should be taken from that
conference by the nations of the world.
§ Ensure disaster
risk reduction is a national and local priority with a strong
institutional basis for implementation
§ Identify, assess
and monitor risks and enhance early warning
knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of
safety and resilience at all levels
§ Reduce the
underlying risk factors
§ Strengthen preparedness for
In short, nations must foster a
culture of disaster prevention and resiliency.
Western-based Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction took
an active role in the conference because we believe developing
strategies at this level are critical to fostering a culture
of disaster prevention and resiliency.
Gordon McBean, Chair in Policy, and I provided active
contribution to a wide range of themes involving subjects such
as risk assessment, the need for action and climate change in
Some action is being taken. The
International Flood Initiative that I and others worked on,
including a key meeting here at Western last fall, was
formally launched in Kobe.
The new inter-agency
initiative aims to minimize loss of life and reduce damage
caused by floods. It would integrate the scientific,
operational, educational and public awareness aspects of flood
management, including the social response and communication
dimensions of flooding and related disaster preparedness.
And we have a goal worth aiming for: to cut in half by
2015 the flood-related loss of life.
Simonovic is Chair in Engineering, Institute for Catastrophic
Loss Reduction and Professor, Department of Civil and
Environmental Engineering at the University of Western