Hospitals & Asylums    


International Day for Disaster Reduction HA-12-10-05


United Nations agencies are working around the clock, are sending supplies and teams of emergency workers to the survivors of an earthquake that left an estimated 30,000 dead and 40,000 injured in Pakistan. While 1 million people are in need of acute, life-saving assistance, 2.5 million people have been left homeless, and 4 million affected.  The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has planned an airlift of 200 metric tons of high energy biscuits, which are vital in the days following a natural disaster, because survivors cannot cook their own food. The World Health Organization (WHO) is providing essential medicines to cover 210,000 people for one month, in addition to equipment for 1,000 surgeries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has begun distributing supplies for up to 100,000 people, such as family tents, blankets and stoves, drawn from existing stockpiles. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warned that tens of thousands of women in the affected areas are currently pregnant, and has begun trucking in medical supplies.  The earthquake, which measured 7.4 on the Richter scale, inflicted massive destruction in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, Jammu and Kashmir States on the morning of 8 October. More than ten aftershocks had magnitudes of 5.2 to 6.3. The quake also left 200 dead in northern India and caused minor damage in Afghanistan.  The relief effort is being hampered by rain and mudslides, making access to the affected areas very difficult. Hansjoerg Strohmeyer of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the relief effort was currently dependent on helicopters, as the affected area could only be reached by one small road, incapable of handling heavy truck traffic. OCHA has set up emergency relief coordination centers in the capital Islamabad, as well as an on-site center in the Muzaffarabad area.


Our planet is experiencing natural disasters on an unprecedented scale. The consequential negative socioeconomic and environmental impacts slow down and at times hinder and stall the sustainable development of countries. The international community has a distinct moral obligation to assist those countries which are mostly affected by such disasters, through the enhancement of its mechanisms for capacity-building, including technology transfer for natural disaster prevention and humanitarian assistance, in cases when such cataclysmic phenomena occur.  Worldwatch Institute reported in 1999 by the Dealing with Disasters release that worldwide economic losses from weather related disasters has risen suddenly from an estimated $8 billion in 1980 to $30 billion in 1990 to $90 billion 1999.  Natural Disasters and Vulnerability A/RES/59/233 of 22 February 2005 expresses concern over the increasing negative impact of severe natural hazards, including earthquakes, extreme weather events and associated natural disasters, which continues to hinder social and economic progress, in particular in developing countries.


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message on the International Day for Disaster Reduction, to be observed on 12 October: The lesson we must draw is encapsulated in the theme of this year’s International Day for Disaster Reduction:  “Invest to prevent disaster”.  We cannot stop natural calamities, but we can and must better equip individuals and communities to withstand them.  Those most vulnerable to nature’s wrath are usually the poorest, which means that when we reduce poverty, we also reduce vulnerability.  These are the type of innovative approaches called for in the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015, adopted at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in 18 to 22 January in Kobe, Japan, and reaffirmed in September at the World Summit at United Nations Headquarters in New York.  On this International Day, after a year in which we should all have learned profound lessons, I call on Governments at all levels, international organizations, civil society groups, and the private sector to implement this framework and invest in poverty reduction and disaster prevention, in order to build resilient communities and save lives.  By resolution 44/236 (22 December 1989), the General Assembly designated the second Wednesday of October International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction. The International Day was to be observed annually during the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, 1990-1999.  In 2001, the General Assembly decided to maintain the observance of the International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction on the second Wednesday of October (resolution 56/195 of 21 December), as a vehicle to promote a global culture of natural disaster reduction, including disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness. 


One of the distinctions between how developed and developing States respond to and recover from disasters is in the availability of vital and sound infrastructure, which plays a large role in disaster management and can mean the difference between the deaths of several dozens and hundreds to thousands of people. The push for sustainable development may help create infrastructure, but regulation of building standards that govern their day-to-day use will also help to build stronger structures.  Poorly designed infrastructure could increase rather than mitigate potential hazards, and poorly planned economic development could turn a recurring natural phenomenon into a human economic disaster, said Ms. Arnold. “Allowing dense populations on flood plains or permit-ting poor building codes in earthquake zones is as likely as a natural event to cause casualties and losses.”  Japan and the United States stand as examples of how regulatory measures can affect the safety of citizens. Both Kobe and Los Angeles are areas that are highly susceptible to earthquakes. In the recorded past, the deaths of denizens reached levels similar to developing countries. Over time, both areas implemented and modified their building codes to make them more resilient to earthquakes. Although the loss of life in the 1995 Kobe earthquake reached 5,000, a report by EQE International showed that many of the structures that met the current building standards withstood the force of the quake.  As reconstruction in southern Asian countries has commenced, they are at a crucial point in their development. The rush has begun to rebuild the region so that people can return to their daily lives. While there is a need for expediency to return people to more permanent shelters and restore the economy, it is also a moment to pause and examine what role infrastructure will play in disaster management and implement needed hazard-reduction standards. Development looks to the future, but it is also important that it is durable enough to last at least until its use has come and gone.