14 July 2004 - As the frequency of natural disasters rises, along with the number of people around the world whose lives and homes are at serious risk, the United Nations has launched a report highlighting 100 examples of how people are taking steps to make their communities less vulnerable when a catastrophe strikes.
From building terraced fields in the Indonesian mountains to reduce the severity of floods to constructing earthquake-resistant buildings in Japan to producing a radio soap opera in Central America with storylines about hurricane awareness, the UN's disaster reduction arm hopes the report's examples will serve as an inspiration and as a guide.
More than 70,000 people died last year as a result of 700 separate natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods and cyclones, around the world, according to the Inter-Agency Secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR). Its new report is called Living with Risk: A global review of disaster reduction initiatives.
These hazards cost $65 billion collectively and affected at least 600 million people - seven to 10 times' more than the number of people affected by wars.
Launching the report today, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland said the number of disasters is increasing - and the disasters are becoming more severe - because of the impact of human civilization on the earth.
The amount of people at risk is also rising because population growth means more and more of the world's largest cities and conurbations are located in prime hazard areas.
But Mr. Egeland said the scale of human losses and damage to infrastructure and livelihoods has been reduced because countries are getting better at protecting themselves from disasters.
He said the monsoonal rains that have caused deadly floods and landslides across South Asia this week have had a much smaller impact - while still extremely serious - than they would have had a few decades ago, when the region was less prepared.
This is "for the simple reason that we now have enormously better preventative programmes" in place, he said.
Mr. Egeland stressed, however, that international donors and aid agencies lag behind in recognizing the devastating impact that disasters have compared to conflicts.
"The Bam [in Iran] and Algerian earthquakes [last year] killed 30,000 people in seconds - many more than" some wars have killed in a decade, he said, adding "it is much easier to get, unfortunately, assistance the day after an earthquake than it is to fund some preventative work" before a disaster strikes.
The report also sets out strategies and priorities for countries and communities to consider when planning how to reduce the impact of natural hazards. These include setting up early-warning systems for disasters, managing land use more responsibly to reduce potential erosion and landslides and increasing construction of disaster-resistant buildings.
A global conference on disaster reduction, to be held next January in Kobe, Japan, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the deadly earthquake there, is expected to further discuss these issues.
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