World “sleepwalking into disasters”

The world is “sleepwalking” toward preventable natural disasters, according to the top United Nations aid official, Reuters reported. “We’re still to some extent sleepwalking our way into disasters for the future, which we know are going to happen, and not enough is being done to mitigate the damage,” said John Holmes, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

While risk-reduction efforts have improved since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami — in which more than 250,000 people were killed — much more work was needed, Holmes said. A modest increase in risk-reduction spending could significantly reduce the effects of disasters, he said at a Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction conference in Geneva.

“The trends in disasters, particularly from climate change, are of enormous concern,” Holmes noted. “We can only expect that this kind of trend is going to continue.” He said he hoped the Global Platform would agree to spend about US$3 billion a year on disaster-risk reduction. The figure represents around 10% of the US$8 billion spent each year on disaster relief, plus 1% of the US$239 billion development-aid budget.

It was important, Holmes added, that global efforts to deal with climate change include disaster-risk reduction and look at adapting behaviour, as well as mitigating the effects of disasters. About 90% of disasters are climate-related, he said, while the 2008 earthquake in China’s Sichuan province and a recent quake in Italy have shown the need for tough building codes and the importance of enforcing them.

Priorities for the Global Platform meeting include plans to disaster-proof schools and hospitals, to build up early-warning systems, to reduce human settlement in disaster-prone areas and to restore and safeguard ecosystems.

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