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Awareness, preparation key to reducing disasters’ impact: UNV chief

11 January 2005

Bonn, Germany: The impact of the tsunamis that hit the Indian Ocean region two weeks ago has been lessened in areas where United Nations agencies have been able to implement disaster risk mitigation programmes, said Ad de Raad, Executive Coordinator of the UN Volunteers (UNV) programme, to journalists here.

He addressed the media at a press talk organized by the City of Bonn on 7 January to focus attention on public education in disaster preparedness and early warning systems as ways to mitigate the effects of natural and human-induced catastrophes. Representatives from several Bonn-based UN agencies and German institutions participated in the discussions.

Mr. de Raad referred to UNV’s experience in India where the organization helps coordinate trainings to prepare thousands of communities in disaster prone areas. Several teams of UN Volunteers – Indian nationals who led the trainings in their own communities – are now assisting relief efforts in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. UN Volunteers are also working with UN country office teams in identifying relief and recovery priorities.

Referring to the tsunamis, Reid Basher, Coordinator of the UN Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR), said the death toll could have been substantially lower if systems were in place to issue an alert. "Instead of putting all the money into relief activities, some resources would be better employed if invested into early warning systems," he said. "The loss of life occurred later, some time after the earthquake happened. People could have taken action if they had (the) warning."

Irmgard Schwaetzer, President of the German Committee for Disaster Reduction (DKKV), said the Indian Ocean disaster is a clear sign that governments and agencies working in disaster mitigation cannot continue business as usual. "When will the global community utilize the knowledge and expertise on disaster preparedness it already possesses?” she asked. "Decision makers and society at large need to be mobilized on a permanent basis. Governments, in turn, need to be obligated to actually apply early warning systems.”

Among others who attended the event were Günter Klein, Director of the World Health Organization’s European Centre for Environment and Health; Janos Bogardi, Director of the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security; Gregoire de Kalbermatten, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD); and Dr Christina Bollin of the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ).

They also highlighted the upcoming World Conference on Disaster Reduction, which takes place in Kobe, Japan from 18 to 22 January 2005. Some 3,000 participants are expected to attend the conference, which aims, among other things, to increase awareness of the importance of disaster reduction policies, thereby facilitating and promoting the implementation of those policies.

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)