By Sophie Hares
CANCUN, Mexico, May 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Cutting human, economic and infrastructure losses caused by disasters is imperative, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto told the start of a U.N. conference, urging wealthy countries to help vulnerable nations limit their exposure to natural hazards.
Peña Nieto said on Wednesday that threats such as earthquakes and storms "recognise no national boundaries or frontiers or orders of government".
Ninety percent of deaths from disasters happen in low- and middle-income countries, he noted at the opening of the three-day conference on disasters in the Mexican resort of Cancun.
"In the Caribbean, there are some economies and societies that are especially vulnerable in light of disaster situations that have been aggravated as a result of climate change," he said, expressing a commitment to support neighbouring Caribbean nations.
Peña Nieto said Mexico was exposed to meteorological, geographical and volcanic risks, with a quarter of the population living under the threat of cyclones, while a third was vulnerable to earthquakes. At least 166 disasters had affected the country since 2012, he noted.
"In Mexico, we are well aware that we are fortunate, that we have the institutions available to us - notably our armed forces, our civil institutions, as well as the human and material resources necessary to have a national civil protection system," he said.
Running until Friday, the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction is the first major meeting since the 15-year Sendai Framework was hammered out in Japan in 2015, setting targets for governments to cut deaths, economic losses and infrastructure damage from disasters by 2030.
The seven Sendai targets also include curbing disruption to services such as health and education, and widening access to early warning systems and public disaster risk information.
Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, called for more assistance for poorer countries most impacted by disasters. Tackling climate and disaster risk was essential to meeting the world's development goals, she added.
Mohammed said the Cancun conference marked a move from commitment to action aimed at implementing the Sendai Framework goals, and a shift towards managing disaster risk rather than dealing with the aftermath of catastrophes.
"Human and economic losses from disasters cannot continue at current levels if we are going to progress with the Sustainable Development Goals," she told the conference.
Organisations - from governments to mayors and women's groups - needed to put more emphasis on trying to prevent disasters, which can wipe out a poor country's entire gross domestic product (GDP) overnight, she added.
She highlighted the case of Haiti, which lost 120 percent of its GDP in a devastating 2010 earthquake, while last year's Hurricane Matthew cost 32 percent of its GDP.
A communique released after a leaders' meeting led by Peña Nieto said countries recognised the fast-growing cost of natural disasters, exacerbated by climate change, which was complicating efforts to put risk management measures in place.
Recognising the link between climate change and water-linked threats, it called on countries to manage their water resources in a way that enables them to adapt to climate shifts.
"We emphasise the urgency to take immediate actions to reverse the current trends of water scarcity, floods, degradation of sewer systems and sanitation, and water-related disasters," said the communique.
Urging countries to step up efforts to meet the Sendai goals, it called on them to assess the risks to critical infrastructure by 2019, improve collection of disaster data, allocate budgets for disaster risk reduction, and strengthen building codes and regulatory frameworks.
It also backed measures to transfer risk so as to better protect people and their livelihoods, while promoting resilient housing, infrastructure and social development.
(Reporting by Sophie Hares, editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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