International development targets threatened by failure to reduce risk from disasters

Publié: 18 juin 2002

International development targets set for the year 2015, such as halving world poverty and hunger, will not be reached unless the heavy toll of disasters on the poor is reduced through effective measures, says this year's World Disasters Report, released today by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

In its tenth year of publication, the report is calling for disaster risk reduction targets, such as halving numbers of people killed and affected by disasters and increasing the number of governments with dedicated plans and resources for risk reduction programmes, to be added to the international development goals for 2015 and beyond.

The report also warns that thousands of lives are lost and millions of people left weakened each year because of donor reluctance to invest in measures that reduce the impact of disasters. Last year alone, the lives of 170 million people worldwide were disrupted by disasters.

Donors are criticised for not living up to their own rhetoric on reducing the risk from disasters. Though a strong supporter of disaster response efforts, the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) spent just 1.5% of its aid budget on disaster preparedness last year.

Mozambique, which suffered two years of record-breaking floods in 2000-2001, received only 15% of funds required to replace simple river and rain gauges which alert communities to danger and which were destroyed by the floods in 2000. This, even though $470 million were pledged for reconstruction and rehabilitation by the international community.

There is also criticism of an over-reliance on high-profile aid operations to save lives when long-term investment in disaster mitigation at the local level is proven to be much more effective. No international aid effort was necessary last year when the worst hurricane since 1944 hit Cuba but only five people died. Local mechanisms were in place to evacuate 700,000 people from Havana and other threatened areas. Of the 53,000 people rescued from the floodwaters in Mozambique's two great floods, 34,000 were saved by local people.

The good news in the report is that the numbers of people killed in disasters has dropped significantly. Worldwide, disasters both natural and technological, claimed one million lives from 1982-1991. This total fell by 40% to around 620,000 deaths from 1992-2001, largely due to an enormous drop in famine deaths in Africa.

However, the report shows that the numbers of people affected by natural disasters over the last ten years has nearly trebled since the 1970s to two billion and flags the upward trend with a warning about climate change and the obliteration it threatens, not just for small island nations in the Pacific, but also many densely populated coastal regions. The report calls for an integrated approach to combat this growing trend in the number of people affected by disasters.

"We cannot leave disasters to disaster managers alone. If 200 million people on average are being affected by disasters every year, their development is set back. Development experts must play a bigger role in disaster management and risk reduction and forging links between the two," said Federation President, Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro.

Poverty need not leave people helpless in the face of disaster, the report adds, quoting several examples of impoverished communities successfully defending themselves against natural hazards: rainwater harvesting by a drought-stricken Sri Lankan village; a project by the Vietnam Red Cross in which 110 kms of mangrove forests have been planted along the coast as a buffer against typhoons; a simple upstream warning system for a flood-prone Guatemala river basin.

On the other hand, "flawed development," the report also emphasizes, "is exposing more people to disasters," moving shanty dwellers in quake zones to shoddily built and much less safe high-rise apartments, for example. An enforcement of building codes would ensure safer development.

The 2002 report also looks in detail at risk reduction measures being put in place in south-east Europe's high-anxiety earthquake zone. It analyses the latest techniques for assessing vulnerability and examines the issues surrounding accountability in the humanitarian field.

A Video News Release is also available with soundbites in English, French, Spanish and Arabic. For broadcasters who are interested in obtaining a copy, please contact the Media Service. For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

Denis McClean, Head of Media Service Tel: + 41 22 730 4428 / + 41 79 217 3357
Jemini Pandya, Press Officer Tel: + 41 22 730 4570 / + 41 79 217 3374
Marie-Françoise Borel, Press Officer Tel: + 41 22 730 4346 / + 41 79 217 3345
Eva Calvo, Press Officer Tel: + 41 22 730 4357 / + 41 79 217 3372