Nations gather to craft disaster plan

Representatives of more than 150 countries have gathered in Japan to draft an action plan to save lives before and during disasters in the wake of the Asian tsunami.

Last Modified: 18 Jan 2005 12:12 GMT
Kofi Annan: Invest a little now to save a lot later

Representatives of more than 150 countries have gathered in Japan to draft an action plan to save lives before and during disasters in the wake of the Asian tsunami.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the world to learn from the killer tsunami, saying spending now could limit the loss of life and damage from natural disasters later.

More than 175,000 people have been killed and millions left homeless by the 26 December tsunami, and pledges of emergency relief stand at more than $7 billion.

Investing smaller sums before disasters could reduce the
toll such catastrophes take in lives and money, Annan said
on Tuesday, at the start of a five-day United Nations disaster reduction conference in the Japanese city of Kobe, which is marking the 10th anniversary of a quake that killed 6433 people there in 1995.

"It is not enough to pick up the pieces," Annan said in a
video message following a moment of silence for tsunami
victims. "We must draw on every lesson we can to avoid such
catastrophes in the future." 

Fraction of cost

The UN education and scientific agency Unesco estimates that a system that could have warned Indian Ocean nations about the tsunami would have cost $30 million - a fraction of the economic cost of the disaster. 

"It is not enough to pick up the pieces. We must draw on every lesson we can to avoid such
catastrophes in the future"

Kofi Annan,
UN secretary-general

At the top of the agenda for the Kobe conference is persuading wealthy donor nations to provide funds for developing countries and ensuring that these promises are kept. 

Jan Egeland, the director of UN Emergency Relief, called for donors to devote money to prevention measures and for more "newly rich" countries to contribute.

He said: "I am acutely aware of how much is being spent on our being fire brigades, of putting plaster on the wounds, and too little preventing the devastation and the suffering in the first place.

"I would propose that about 10% of all funds spent as emergency aid should be spent for disaster risk reduction."

Early warning

More than 175,000  people were
killed by the tsunami

Also a priority is the establishment of a tsunami early-warning system for the Indian Ocean, similar to one set up in the Pacific after a 1960 quake in Chile triggered a wave along Japan's coast that killed more than 100 people.

Thousands might have been spared in the December tsunami if warnings had reached countries such as Sri Lanka, India and faraway Somalia before the wave struck. 

About 4000 scientists and officials will set goals for all nations ranging from an early-warning system to standards for safe buildings, Egeland said.

Target 2007

The World Conference on Disaster Reduction was originally
designed as a meeting of scientists and low-level civil servants on the 10th anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Kobe from which the city has rapidly rebuilt. 

But registration doubled after the earthquake and tsunami on 26 December.

Unesco said a warning mechanism for the Indian Ocean was
expected to be functional by June 2006, with a global system in place a year later.

But officials and experts stressed that an alert system had to address all disasters and not just focus on tsunamis.

Tsunami experts at the conference also proposed making 26 December an international day of commemoration of Asia's disaster, so that people would remember what a tsunami was decades from now.

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