Press Releases

Note to Correspondents

Note No. 217
7 October 2002


Global awareness of successful disaster reduction efforts in mountain areas -
The International Day for Disaster Reduction, 9 October

VIENNA, 7 October (UN Information Service) -- The International Day for Disaster Reduction is observed every year on the second Wednesday of October, 9 October this year. The day is the culminating point of the World Disaster Reduction Campaign which is organised by the United Nations and based every year on a new theme. This year’s theme is "Disaster Reduction for Sustainable Mountain Development". It was chosen to complement the celebration of the International Year of Mountains.

Mountains are one of the world's most vulnerable bio-geographical areas and are identified as a priority ecosystem. They have heterogeneous habitats with an often unique flora and fauna, are very susceptible to land degradation and have variable climates. They are the source of water for more than half the world's population, too. Mountains are also extremely fragile and often a stage of natural hazards.

About one-tenth of the world’s population, of which over 80 per cent are among the poorest on the planet, live in mountain areas. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan highlights in a statement to the International Day for Disaster Reduction, that these populations are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters because poverty and demographic pressure has forced them to settle on hazard-prone slopes, at the feet of volcanoes or in other seismically active areas. Kofi Annan asserts that "Poor land-use planning and environmental mismanagement increase the risk that disasters will occur". Landslides, debris flows, avalanches, floods and earthquakes can then cause massive losses of life and property, can cut off areas for days, weeks and even months. Researchers have determined that natural disasters in mountain regions worldwide led to almost 1.6 million lives lost between 1900 and 1988. In the future, the number of disasters will rise, more populations will be adversely affected and economic losses will sharply increase.

Stopping the force of nature is impossible, but human and material losses can be prevented by risk reduction. As a typical mountain country with extensive experience in natural disasters, Austria has initiated national programmes for reducing vulnerabilty to natural hazards: For example, in many mountainous areas, avalanche zoning and fencing or the zoning of dangerous streams have become common. A federal service for Torrent and Avalanche Control invests about EUR 115 million into control projects every year. Research and information projects on natural hazards are encouraged by the government, too.

"Sustainable development in mountain communities requires more up-front and ‘upstream’ investments in measures to reduce disasters." the UN Secretary General is quoted as saying. The goal of the International Day for Disaster Reduction is to increase global awareness of measures, for example the ones in Austria, that can be taken to reduce the negative impacts of natural disasters. A platform for people who live in different mountain areas worldwide is provided to exchange their experiences, so that past and new solutions in vulnerability and risk reduction can be explained and shared. The engagement in active disaster management is encouraged. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction is to obtain a commitment from public authorities and to stimulate partnerships between governments, civil society organizations, UN agencies, the scientific community and the media. This global cooperation will help to reduce the impact of natural disasters on populations not only in developed countries, but also in poor and remote areas. Kofi Annan notes to the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction "In implementing the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, in building a world of resilient communities and nations, prevention must have priority."

Awareness of successful disaster reduction efforts ensures the long-term security and survival of mountain populations as well as of populations who live outside of mountain regions. In the end, successful disaster reduction is an essential component of sustainable development.

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