UN envoy urges future focus to cut disaster risks

By John Heilprin, Associated Press | Posted - Dec. 16, 2014 at 5:42 a.m.



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GENEVA (AP) — The world is better prepared to face past calamities like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami but it's not ready for the extreme weather of the future, the U.N.'s top natural disaster official said Tuesday.

Margareta Wahlstrom, the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for disaster risk reduction, said early warning systems like those now in place in the Indian Ocean are helping improve preparations for major disasters.

That warning system was established after a massive earthquake off the Indonesian coast on Dec. 26, 2004, triggered a 100-foot-high tsunami that killed 230,000 people in 14 countries and caused $10 billion in damage.

However, Wahlstrom says much more needs to be done to prepare for the extreme weather that has noticeably increased in recent years.

"Disasters that go beyond what you can expect a country to cope with is not an issue for poor countries anymore; it's an issue for every country," Wahlstrom told The Associated Press, pointing to Pakistan, Thailand, Japan, Russia, the United States, Haiti and Chile as among the places hard-hit by major disasters in the past 10 years.

According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Belgium, which tracks the world's catastrophes, from 1983 to 1992 the world averaged 147 climate, water and weather disasters each year. Over the past 10 years, that number has jumped to an average of 306 a year.

"The mix of extreme weather variability, some climate issues and population has grown a lot — and therefore cities and urban environments have grown very dense and have not planned for this type of stuff," she said.

A world conference next March in Japan will help establish the next stage of preparedness beyond the measures instituted since the tsunami.

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John Heilprin

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