DEVELOPMENT: ‘Vulnerable’ Asia Seeks To Reduce Disaster Risks

  • by Stanislaus Jude Chan (incheon, south korea)
  • Inter Press Service

Speaking to journalists at the Fourth Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held here on Oct. 25- 28, Sugeng Triutomo, deputy chief of Prevention and Preparedness at Indonesia’s National Agency for Disaster Management, remained optimistic that the country’s 'spirit' will not be broken.

'These disasters should not stop the development of our country,' Triutomo said. 'These disasters should make us strong… and more resilient to (future) disasters.'

But already, local reports are pointing to the failure of early warning systems installed on Indonesia’s remote western Mentawai islands, where 3-metre high waves have left close to 400 people dead and thousands more homeless or missing.

Ironically, it is precisely these disaster risk management measures, such as early warning systems that are able to prevent higher death tolls, that the ministerial conference sought to implement in the region.

Ministers at the meeting have approved a five-year regional roadmap to establish climate-resilient systems for disaster risk management by 2015 at the regional, national and community levels.

The roadmap, known as Incheon REMAP, focuses on three themes: raising awareness and building capacities of communities so they can better cope with more weather- related hazards; sharing information through new technologies and sound practices in climate and disaster risk management so decision makers can be better informed; and promoting integration of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation as part of sustainable development policies.

'This is the first time that governments agree at a regional level to recognise disaster risk reduction as a main tool to adapt to climate change and adopt a common regional climate risk management approach to reduce weather- related disaster impacts,' said Margareta Wahlström, special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.

'I believe that the REMAP can become a guideline for all nations in the region and beyond to follow as a way to contribute to effective disaster reduction and climate change adaptation,' said Park Yeon-soo, administrator of Korea’s National Emergency Management Agency.

'Thirty-eight percent of the world’s disasters happened in Asia, however, 90 percent of the global disaster victims are found in Asia,' said Park. 'Asia is the most vulnerable area, and because of the difference in the disaster management system and technical levels, it is difficult to draw practical cooperation.'

But at the same time, Wahlström said that 'the progress of this region will have a huge impact on the other regions in the world.'

'Ours is a common future. COP 15 showed little evidence of a civilised community, as we mocked each other in a blame game, and haggled over who should pay and how the invisible money should be divided,' Bhutan Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley, said in his keynote address, referring to the 2009 global conference on climate change or the 15th Conference of the Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Denmark.

'The failure of the COP15 speaks of our obstinacy against moving away from the delusion that the rich, the not so rich and the poor can live apart in this village that we call Earth,' he added.

The increase in frequency and magnitude of disasters, Jigmi said, are the signs of a planet reeling under the pain of human abuse. He called for human society to change its way of life to one that is responsible and sustainable, or face the diminishing capacity of nature to support life will lead to the demise of the human race with all other life forms.

'Limiting our actions to dealing only with the symptoms of a deeper malaise can never be adequate. Our attempts at mitigation and adaptation will, in the end, be futile and we can only expect bigger disasters,' Jigmi explained.

Jerry Velasquez, senior regional coordinator for Asia and Pacific at the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), agrees that disasters are now driven by 'economic growth'.

Instead of referring to these catastrophic events as 'natural disasters', Velasquez explained that they should be called 'disasters caused by natural hazards, because disasters are no longer natural.'

The UNISDR, together with the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), also launched the ‘Asia Pacific Disaster Report, 2010’ during the conference in Incheon.

According to the report, people of the Asia-Pacific region are four times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than those living in Africa, and 25 times more likely than those living in Europe or North America. The region also accounted for a staggering 85 percent of disaster-related deaths and 38 percent of global economic losses during 1980-2009.

'It is clear that the Millennium Development Goals cannot be attained in the region if its hard-fought development gains are not protected from the risks and impacts of disasters,' said U.N. Undersecretary General and ESCAP executive secretary Noeleen Heyzer, in a joint statement with Wahlström.

The ISDR called for Asian leaders to 'invest' in disaster risk reduction, estimating that every one dollar put into disaster prevention results in between four to seven dollars saved in post-disaster aid.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service