Prevention not cure for Philippines disasters

Vulnerable countries such as the Philippines must invest in averting natural disasters, rather than just dealing with them when they occur, according to a UN agency.

Over 1,000 people were declared dead or missing in the Philippines after terrible storms ravaged the islands last week, with around 400 others killed in another tropical storm just before.

Issues such as increased urbanisation, illegal logging, and poor land management and planning were all identified by the UN as serious contributing factors to the islands’ susceptibility to natural disasters.

Philippine communities are constantly threatened by all kinds of natural hazards, including volcanoes, earthquakes, typhoons, floods and landslides. However, logging practices in particular were noted as a major cause of flooding and mudslides.

Following the Pinatubo volcanic eruption in 1991, Philippine communities have become much better at managing risk and coping with natural hazards, but they still have a long way to go, director of the UN Secretariat for disaster reduction, Salvano Briceno stated.

“It is essential that a higher priority is given to investing in prevention rather than just in response,” he said. “The Philippines’ national capacity to reduce risk and vulnerability to natural hazards still requires further strengthening and support.”

The upcoming World Conference on Disaster Reduction next January in Kobe, Japan should encourage governments, international and regional organisations to take serious action on reducing the impact of natural disasters, according to Mr Briceno, particularly in the face of evidence that global warming is increasing the number and severity of extreme weather occurrences around the world (see related story).

“The series of disasters that we have recently witnessed should act as a wake up call for all decision makers to act now,” Mr Briceno insisted. “We are now facing new threats due to extreme weather conditions that call for a fresh approach to disaster risk management.”

By Jane Kettle

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