U.N. calls for increased commitment to help vulnerable countries prepare for natural disaster

Instead of responding to natural disasters after they happen, aid should be dedicated to helping countries prepare for future disasters, John Holmes, the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, said Friday, Reuters reports.

"You can't stop the disasters happening but you can make an enormous difference to whether they kill people and, to some extent at least, have their livelihoods destroyed," Holmes said during a press conference in Geneva that came at the end of a week-long meeting that tackled ideas on how to best prepare poorer countries for natural disasters.

"Among the recommended measures endorsed at the U.N. meeting were plans to review the structural soundness of all schools and hospitals in disaster-prone areas, and to ensure building and land-use codes better reflect natural hazard risks," Reuters writes (MacInnis, Reuters, 6/19). Participants in a U.N. disaster response meeting on Friday called for political leaders to take steps to cut the number of deaths from natural disasters in half by 2015 and "urged governments to make clear financial commitments to disaster risk reduction activities by 2010," VOA News reports.

The U.N. estimates about 236,000 people died from 300 natural disasters last year; the price tag in economic damages ran $181 billion. Holmes acknowledged halving the annual deaths caused by natural disaster was an "ambitious" goal, yet achievable (Schlein, VOA News, 6/19). Holmes called for countries to reserve "$3 billion a year in their foreign aid to help poorer nations prepare against natural disasters," AP/Taiwan News reports (AP/Taiwan News, 6/19).

"Mr. Holmes also highlighted the growing threat of climate change which, he said, is recognized as a source of great risk but at the same time offers the potential for a ‘triple win’ – adaptation, disaster risk reduction and poverty reduction," U.N. News Service writes. "He stressed that disaster risk reduction must be an important part of the climate change deal that is to be sealed at the U.N. climate change conference to be held in Copenhagen in December" (U.N. News Service, 6/19).

The Pakistan Times reports on a joint appeal by UNICEF and the WHO for disaster preparedness to focus on increasing the safety of hospitals and schools. The newspaper writes: "UNICEF and WHO highlighted the need to strengthen measures in four key areas: building school and health infrastructure adhering to disaster resilience standards; assessing the safety of school and hospital buildings; ensuring the emergency preparedness of staff; and educating and involving communities in disaster risk reduction" (Taylor, Pakistan Times, 6/22).

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