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International Momentum Builds to Improve Disaster Preparedness
April 19, 2011

International Momentum Builds to Improve Disaster Preparedness
International Momentum Builds to Improve Disaster Preparedness

15 April 2011

A Post-Disaster Response Plan Is Important to Preparedness


By Charlene Porter

Staff Writer, Department of State


Washington — Images of Japan’s earthquake destruction remained fresh in the global memory five weeks after an earthquake and tsunami, as Asian leaders and global donors came together April 15 to advance disaster preparedness and risk reduction at local, national and international levels.

The capability of the international community to recognize risk, prepare for the worst and respond with efficiency are “critical to global security,” said U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah. Addressing the one-day conference on “Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction in Asia,” nations also have “a moral need and a moral commitment to stand together in times of crisis,” Shah said.

“We are making an effort to shift the paradigm from reaction to prevention,” said Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero. Countries that make investments in developing and enforcing sound building codes and public safety standards will find the actions pay off in lives saved after a disaster. Speakers repeatedly noted that Japan’s long-standing commitment to quake-proof building designs saved perhaps thousands of lives during the March 11 earthquake.

“Our horizon is going to be darkened by natural disasters,” Otero said. “But we can prevent that darkness from overwhelming us.”

The Department of State and USAID are among the co-sponsors of this initiative, joined by the United Nations, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, a global partnership of nations committed to helping nations reduce their vulnerability to natural hazards.

The government of Nepal, another co-sponsor, is recognized for the steps it has been taking in recent years to prepare for potential disaster and reduce its exposure to risk. The Nepal Disaster Risk Reduction Consortium involves the government and nongovernmental and international organizations, uniting them in a common action plan devoted to disaster preparedness and risk reduction.

Nepal’s action is especially important because of the many potential disasters that could befall the Himalayan mountain nation. Nepal is one of the 20 most disaster-prone countries in the world, according to the U.N. Development Programme, subject to earthquakes and flooding and with a high death count attributable to disasters,. The risk reduction consortium has developed a plan to focus attention on a few key areas, to include boosting school and hospital safety, increasing capacity of first responders, introducing risk reduction strategies at the local and community levels, and land use management planning.

Advocates of increased disaster preparedness say they can have a difficult time convincing developing nation leaders of the priority that should be placed on this activity. Placed against other vital development needs, some nations say they can’t afford preventive measures, said Valerie Amos, the under secretary-general of the United Nations.

“But I’ll tell them they can’t afford not to,” said Amos, pointing out that nations with a high level of poverty are consistently more vulnerable in a disaster and will suffer greater numbers of fatalities.

Conference participants also discussed the need for nations and communities to plan and act together in developing preparedness plans and in responding to a disaster once it occurs.

The best endorsement of this recommendation came from the conference participant with the most recent and searing memory of disaster, Masaya Fujiwara, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan.

“Solidarity from all around the world has encouraged the people of Japan” as they begin recovery and rebuilding from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Fujiwara said. He said Japan is eager to participate in increased cooperation in disaster preparedness and to share with the world the lessons it has learned from this recent experience.