Press Releases

    2 December 2002


    NEW YORK, 29 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to the high-level meeting on Sustainable Flood Management, delivered on his behalf by Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme, in Budapest, 30 November to 1 December:

    The year 2002 has seen immense natural disasters, with floods, droughts, hurricanes, landslides and earthquakes causing an estimated $56 billion in damage. And while the worst disasters tend to happen in developing countries, where the poorest of the poor suffer without being covered by insurance or protection mechanisms, record-setting rains in Europe earlier this year showed yet again that developed countries, too, are not immune from the threat. The devastating floods of the Danube, Oder and Elba rivers confronted millions of people across a vast area of the continent with the harsh reality of their vulnerability.

    The reasons for enormous disasters are never one dimensional, nor even purely "natural". Bad land use, deforestation and the destruction of wetlands reduce the ability of soils to absorb heavy rains, thereby turning small creeks into dangerous torrents. Additional factors include rapid and uncoordinated urbanization, and a lack of coherence in disaster response networks and mechanisms. As a result, we urgently need to rethink land use models, to revitalize forests and wetlands, and to reinforce coordination and information-sharing among all those responsible for disaster management. Most of all, we need more and better prevention -- multifaceted, yet integrated, and proactive, rather than reactive.

    Disaster preparedness and management is also linked to the consequences of climate change. For quite some time now, the International Panel on Climate Change has been warning the world that climate change is happening because of human activities, and that it is linked with a considerable increase of abnormal weather conditions, including floods and droughts. Therefore, alongside moves towards sustainable flood management, we also need to mitigate emissions of greenhouse gases. I sincerely hope that the Kyoto Protocol will enter into force as soon as possible.

    United Nations entities, including the United Nations Environment Programme, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the United Nations Development Programme and others are committed to working with Member States and local communities to improve prevention and response. Hazards will always challenge us. But, it is within our power to join forces and build a world of resilient communities and nations. Countries that have recently experienced the effects of floods or other disasters are more open to change. I hope you will seize this opportunity. In that spirit, please accept my best wishes for the success of your discussions.

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