Invest in disaster preparations to protect Asia's poor: World Vision
Singapore (AFP) Sept 21, 2008
Massive investments are needed to protect millions of poor people living in Asia-Pacific coastal areas who are vulnerable to increasingly deadly natural disasters, global charity World Vision said.
The investments could run into "tens of billions of dollars," and should focus more on preparing communities for the climate change-induced calamities than on handouts after they strike, it said in a newly-released report.
It cited a study which showed that for every dollar invested in pre-disaster risk education, seven dollars in losses can be prevented.
"Governments both from within and outside the region must prioritise preparedness to avert massive hardship for millions," said Richard Rumsey, World Vision's regional director for humanitarian and emergency affairs.
"This means finding the billions of dollars needed to ready coastal communities for disasters and adapt to the changes that are coming."
Across the region, tens of millions are vulnerable to rising sea levels, flooding and storms, World Vision said, singling out those living in large cities and delta areas or tiny islands just centimetres (inches) above the sea.
Asia is already home to most of the world's natural disasters, with 75 percent of all people killed last year from such calamities within the region.
Over the past 30 years the number of disasters in Asia rose sharply from below 50 to 200 per year, the report said. Between 1990 and 2007, natural disasters in Asia killed about 757,000 people, affected 3.5 billion others and caused 620 billion US dollars in damage, it added.
Cyclone Nargis left about 138,000 people dead or missing when it hit Myanmar this year while an earthquake in southwestern China killed more than 87,000.
An earthquake-triggered tsunami killed 168,000 people in Indonesia alone in December 2004, and caused tens of thousands more deaths in other nations.
However, only four percent of the 10 billion US dollars in annual humanitarian aid goes to preparing for disasters, according to the report.
Called Planet Prepare: Preparing Coastal Communities in Asia for Future Catastrophes, it warns that "governments have a small window of opportunity to act."
As storms become more ferocious and rising sea levels threaten to engulf low-lying areas, preparations against disasters should be comprehensive, said Johannes Luetz, who wrote the report.
Those preparations should include schools teaching children to be ready when disasters strike, he said.
Coastal villages and cities must be trained not only to prepare for disasters but to provide early warning. They should also have "ownership" of the readiness and response activities, the report said.
Forests should be protected, and large-scale reforestation carried out, because they can act as natural barriers to storm surges, it said.
Infrastructure should also be strengthened and investments made in early warning systems.
The report said reducing poverty will make people more resistant to the shock of disasters as better off residents can afford to build stronger homes and recover faster in the aftermath.
It proposed providing access to micro-insurance and micro-credit to protect families from loss of life, crops, property and livestock.
World Vision, an aid and development organisation, also called for a new convention to protect the rights of so-called "climate change refugees", or people displaced by disasters spawned by climate change.
Unrecognised as refugees under the current UN convention, which covers people fleeing wars or political persecution, those displaced by disasters are usually left to fend for themselves, he said.
"There's huge rewards to be reaped if something can be done to protect the rights and enshrine the rights of future climate change refugees," Luetz said.
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