Keeping track of disaster impact helps stave off future risk - experts

by Sophie Hares | @SophieHares | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 26 May 2017 20:33 GMT

A man stands on top of a damaged bike during a rescue mission at the site of a landslide in Bellana village in Kalutara, Sri Lanka, May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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Only with complete information can vulnerable people be protected and governments invest effectively in prevention, says UN

By Sophie Hares

CANCUN, Mexico, May 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Compiling facts and figures to show the human and economic loss from natural disasters is essential, but not all nations are providing a full picture, experts said on Friday at a major United Nations conference on disasters.

Only with complete information can vulnerable people be protected and governments effectively invest in risk reduction strategies, said the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

Participating nations face a 2020 deadline to put disaster plans in place, part of a framework hammered out in Sendai, Japan two years ago.

An initial review of their progress shows substantial gaps, the UNISDR said.

"This is really at the heart of implementation and reduction of disaster risk," Robert Glasser, head of UNISDR, said at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction meeting in Cancun.

The Sendai framework set ambitious targets for governments to cut deaths and economic losses from disasters by 2030.

The 87 countries that compiled data for review have a lot of information on the physical impact of disasters on populations but less on factors such as economies and cultural heritage, the UNISDR said.

Most countries have baseline information on reducing mortality and two-thirds have data on cutting the number of people affected, but only half have data on reducing damage to critical infrastructure, it said.

"We have gaps that are challenges, but this a good start, and we've a lot more to do," said Glasser.

Collecting and analysing data is essential to make sure "the safety net is woven tightly" and people who are vulnerable due to disability, age or isolation are identified, said Natalia Kanem, deputy executive director of the U.N.'s Population Fund.

"Sendai is telling us we should be prepared, that prevention is better than any cure," she said. "So understanding the baselines, by having a system in place, we're starting to listen."

The Sendai targets include limiting damage to infrastructure and disruption to basic services, including health and education, and widening access to early warning systems and public disaster risk information.

Luis Felipe Puente, head of Mexico's emergency services, called for greater international cooperation and data sharing to analyze risk better and help those exposed to disasters such as earthquakes and volcanoes.

"There is no doubt whatsoever that the earth is changing, it's behaving in a different way," he said. "We can't change nature but we can be ready.

"We can be prepared as long as we have the proper information at hand."

For Germany, which took part in the readiness review, data is key to implementing the Sendai framework and helping direct international aid, said Peter Felten, a senior official for humanitarian aid at Germany's Federal Foreign Office.

"We need to ensure that our action is people-centered," he said. "We bear in mind that everything we do is about the situation, fate and suffering of individuals."

(Reporting by Sophie Hares, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)

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