Natural disasters continue to strike and increase in magnitude, complexity, frequency and economic impact. At the same time, awareness of the process and potential benefits of disaster reduction is still confined to specialized circles, and has not yet been adequately communicated to policy makers and the general public.
So concluded the World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction, convened in Yokohama, Japan from 23 to 27 May, at the mid-point of e International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (1990-2000).
Calling for development of a "global culture of prevention" and improved risk assessment, broader monitoring and communication of warnings, the Conference adopted the Yokohama Strategy for a Safer World: Guidelines for Natural Disaster Prevention, Preparedness and Mitigation.
The document includes: an assessment of disaster reduction since the beginning of the Decade: a strategy for the year 2000 and beyond; a plan of action for activities at the community and national levels, at the regional and subregional levels, and at the international level: and recommendations for follow-up action.
"Earthquakes and cyclones will happen. There is nothing we can do about that, but we can be prepared for them when they do strike", said the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Peter Hansen, at the opening session of the Conference on 23 May.
"Disaster reduction can take place at any point in the process which we call "disaster". It can comprise prevention and preparedness, relief and development, as well as measures to reduce the effects of such disasters."
The "Yokohama Message", summarizing the outcome of the Conference (see box, p. 73), affirms that the impact of natural disasters in terms of human and economic losses has risen and society has become more vulnerable to such disasters. The hardest hit and least able to cope are the poor and socially disadvantaged in developing countries, it states.
Over the past two decades, earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, tidal waves, droughts and other natural events had killed some 3 million people and inflicted injury, displacement and misery on countless more, Mr. Hansen told reporters in New York on 18 May. In fact, there had been a steady increase over the past 30 years in the number of significant natural disasters. The number of people affected had increased by 6 per cent per year, three times the global population growth rate.
However, prevention and mitigation were possible, Mr. Hansen went on, citing Jamaica, where in 1951 Hurricane Charlie resulted in 150 deaths, while in 1988 a much worse Hurricane Gilbert killed only 4 5 people. That was how far that Caribbean nation had come in preventive measures, he said.
Moreover, disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness and relief are interrelated, contributing to and gaining from the implementation of sustainable development, the "Yokohama Message" states. Since disaster prevention is better than disaster response in achieving the goals of the Decade, nations should incorporate that principle in their development plans along with efficient follow-up measures.
Attended by 1,000 delegates, including representatives of 147 countries and territories (South Africa participated in a UN General Assembly Conference for the first time since the early 1970s), a major goal of the Conference was to bring together for the first time senior policy makers, technical experts and representatives of non-governmental organizations to develop an action plan to put the results of science and technology at the service of disaster-prone regions of the world.
The action plan--called for in December 1989 under General Assembly resolution 44/236, by which the Decade was proclaimed--will be of particular importance developing countries, where 90 per cent of the world's natural disasters occur.
A statement of principles, set out at the beginning of the Conference final document, maintains that risk assessment is a required step for the adoption of adequate and successful disaster reduction policies and measures. …