UNITED NATIONS (New York), Dec 27 (Bernama) — On the 10th anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami, that devastated a number of countries both in terms of human lives and property, the United Nations has now come out with the assessment that the world is today better prepared for such natural calamities.
According to UN statistics, the tsunami took toll of over a quarter million lives and destroyed entire coastal communities across a huge geographical stretch from Indonesia to Somalia.
Margareta Wahlstrom, who heads the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), said Friday in a statement that ten years after the Indian Ocean tsunami, “the world has taken significant measures to make the world a safer place against disasters”.
In support of her statement, she cited the establishment of more efficient early warning systems and better evacuation procedures in place, adding that “there is greater understanding and awareness globally of the broad damage that disasters can inflict on our societies”.
The tsunami that wrecked the Asia Pacific region in December 2004, in which some 227,000 people perished and more than 1.4 million lost their livelihood, is considered by the UN as the world’s worst recorded natural disaster.
Although the value of the economic loss was, initially, estimated at nearly US$10 billion, the tsunami also left a trail of long-term environmental and development damage, with the salt water having contaminated the land and destroying agriculture and causing upheavals to entire ecosystems. But it was the sheer scale of destruction that prompted the resolve of the international community to take quick and effective action, reflected in the meeting convened soon after the tsunami in Hyogo, Japan where the first-ever comprehensive agreement on disaster combatting and mitigation.
Wahlstrom, who had helped coordinate the international disaster response at that time, spoke of the “substantial changes in the global thinking regarding disaster risk reduction issues”.
The tsunami had acted as a “wake-up call” and “made us understand how vulnerable we are to hazards.
“We cannot avoid natural hazards, but we know enough to certainly prevent them from becoming disasters.”
A “major life-saving measure” resulting from the tsunami tragedywas the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System, which now provides alerts through three regional watch centres – in India, Indonesia and Australia – and via a network of 26 national tsunami information centres. In 2012, it disseminated early warnings within eight minutes of the Banda Aceh, Indonesia earthquake.
“We must become more intelligent and aware in managing the risks around the location of critical infrastructure in hazard prone areas, whether the threat comes from floods, storms, earthquakes, heat waves or something else,.”
The Hyogo Framework for Action, which expires in 2015, will soon be replaced as countries gather next year in Sendai, Japan, to develop a new disaster-preparedness plan to complement global agreements on climate change and sustainable development goals while also enhancing effective early warning systems.
India on Friday announced it was contributing $1 million to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness in Indian Ocean and Southeast Asian Countries.
The Asia Pacific region, according to the UN, continues to remain “highly vulnerable to coastal hazards.”
ESCAP’s executive secretary Shamshad Akhtar, while welcoming the funding, said the cash inflow would contribute to strengthening early warning systems and ensure that those communities that remain vulnerable receive timely warning information in the event of a disaster.
The partnership highlights the new directional shift adopted by the international community as Member States increasingly pivot from reactive to proactive approaches, emphasizing anticipative, multi-hazard risk reduction with prevention and mitigation of natural disasters.
With 200 million people in Asia and the Pacific affected each year by a broad range of natural disasters between 2003 and 2013, and with the cost of those disasters averaging $34 billion each year between 2001 and 2010, the change in approach is essential.
Early disaster warning systems and clearly marked tsunami evacuation routes are evident in countries such as Thailand, which established a dedicated Government Department of National Disaster Prevention and Mitigation following the tsunami.
In the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, flood protection dykes have been built and there is a nationwide early warning system for flooding.
In the Philippines, the education programme of the United Nations International Children Educational Fund (UNICEF) now includes emergency drills in schools that help prepare children for potential disasters, including the typhoons that regularly strike the country.
Meanwhile, in Laos and other countries in the region, the UN agency has installed disaster-resistant raised hand pumps in schools.