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UN Conference Calls For Alert Systems For All Disasters By 2015

Demolished villages at the Pakistan Kashmir border destroyed by the Kashmir Earthquake. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Emsie Ferreira
Berlin (AFP) Mar 30, 2006
A UN conference ended here on Wednesday with a call for the whole world to have early warning systems against natural disasters like the Asian tsunami and the Kashmir earthquake by 2015.

"We have to cover all countries against all hazards and risks. That is the challenge we face in the next eight and a half years," said Salvano Briceno, the head of the UN's International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

The call matches an appeal made by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the wake of the tsunami which was triggered by a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004 and claimed 217,000 lives.

Fifteen months on, the tsunami was the main talking point at the Third International Conference on Early Warning and the UN promised here that Indian Ocean rim countries will have an alert system by July to warn them of future sea surges.

The region had no alert system when the tsunami struck.

This contributed massively to the death toll and to devastation that meant 50,000 people were still living in tents, former US president Bill Clinton, the UN's special envoy for tsunami recovery, told the meeting.

It heard repeated concerns that countries where tens of thousands died had still not done enough to ensure the scientific information coming from ocean censors will reach people on their coastlines and prompt them to safer ground.

"One of the most burning issues now is to go the last mile, to ensure that the information gets to the local level," the chairwoman of the German Committee for Disaster Reduction, Irmgard Schwaetzer, told the closing session.

Briceno said a lack of communication and political commitment meant lives would again be at risk in countries like Indonesia, which recorded the most deaths, if another tsunami were to hit the Indian Ocean in the near future.

Clinton met here with government officials from the 11 countries affected in 2004 and told them to act faster to implement ways of warning their people to reach safe ground, UN sources said.

The conference saw calls for more funding for a global alert system, and a warning that natural disasters would occur more often as a result of global warming.

"The mega-events of the past 18 months have underlined that we need to think of the unthinkable. They will take place more frequently because of global weather changes and growing urbanisation," Schwaetzer said.

"Within the next 20 years, 80 percent of the world's population will live in urban settlements."

Experts who attended the meeting are due to draw up a checklist for countries to test how ready they are to react to warnings of impending disasters and limit death and damage.

They said improved science meant that tsunamis and earthquakes could be foretold to the minute, while droughts and locust plagues afflicting Africa in particular could be predicted increasingly accurately.

But the moderator of the meeting, British television reporter Sir Trevor McDonald, warned that governments needed to pay as much attention to psychology as to science to ensure that people listen to predictions.

"We have to understand how and why people respond or don't respond," he told some 800 delegates.

"Nobody will leave this conference without a doubt that we have a long way to go."

Though tsunami survivors in Indonesia have taken advice to resettle on safer ground, the same has not proven true in Mozambique which was swept by floods in 2000.

Eunice Mucache, Red Cross programme director for the southern African country, said one of her volunteers had even returned to the exact spot from which he was rescued by boat in raging floodwaters to rebuild his house and replant his crops.

"He said there will not be another flood like that for 100 years and then he will no longer be around."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Yokohama, Japan (SPX) Mar 30, 2006
As ministers meet at the Eighth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP-8), the United Nations University (UNU) urged governments to incorporate the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) findings in national planning processes and poverty reduction strategies.

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