17 January 2005

Experts Meet to Discuss Means of Mitigating the Devastation Caused by Natural Hazards

Up to 3,000 Delegates Representing 120 Countries to Meet at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Japan – Special Sessions to Be Held on Tsunami Disaster

         VIENNA, 17 January (UN Information Service) -- As South and South-East Asia struggle to deal with the aftermath of the tsunami, the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR) is meeting to discuss ways and means to counter the devastation caused by natural hazards. The meeting will take place in Kobe, Japan, from 18 to 22 January. 2004 has been one of the most challenging years for the humanitarian community, largely due to the high number of natural disasters. The year began with the world coming to terms with the aftermath of an earthquake in Bam, Iran, at the end of 2003, which claimed close to 26,000 lives in a mere 10 minutes.

The end of last year was marked by the tsunami catastrophe, which was the most severe earthquake the world has seen in 40 years. The Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December caused more than 150,000 deaths. According to Jan Egeland, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, “more and more people are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the growing number of devastating natural disasters.”

Up to 3,000 delegates representing 120 countries will attend the Conference. Most of the “disaster-prone” countries are expected to participate, as well as major donors.

The first World Conference on Disaster Reduction was held in May 1994 in Yokohama, Japan, and resulted in the “Yokohama strategy”. This 10-year strategy laid out a number of concrete guidelines for action on prevention, preparedness and mitigation of disaster risk. The leading objectives for the WCDR in Kobe are to conclude and report on the review of the Yokohama strategy and its plan of action, with a view to update the guiding framework on disaster reduction for the 21st century; to share good practices and lessons learned to further disaster reduction; to identify gaps and challenges; to increase awareness of the importance of disaster reduction policies; and to increase the reliability and availability of appropriate disaster-related information to the public and disaster management agencies in all regions.

There will be two additional sessions at the Kobe Conference, which will discuss the impact of the tsunami. The first session consists of a high-level panel with Mr. Egeland and high-ranking government officials from the affected countries, with the purpose of exchanging experiences and expertise to improve early warning systems in the region. The second session will be a technical workshop, where the tsunami risks in the Indian Ocean region will be reviewed. “Every region in the world needs to rely on a good early warning system to be safe not only in the Indian Ocean region but also in other regions at risk such as the Mediterranean and the Caribbean,” says Salvano Briceño, Director of the Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. “We hope that the Conference will create long-lasting solutions and help raise awareness about the importance of reducing risks to natural hazards.”


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