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Heavy Floods Widespread Across Asia

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Geneva, 30 September - UNISDR Chief Margareta Wahlström today expressed concern at the great number of people who have lost their lives or have been affected by severe floods currently ravaging many countries across Asia.

Heavy rains due to the monsoon season have already claimed hundreds of lives and adversely affected millions of people in Thailand, Cambodia, Bangladesh, the Philippines and India. Pakistan is now suffering from severe floods for the second year in a row.

According to Keo Vy, a Cambodian disaster official, "The damage is very serious this year. It is the country’s worst flooding in a decade. More than 17,000 families have been evacuated to higher ground in 12 provinces across the country.”

“People shouldn’t die because of floods. We have the technology to alert communities before floods arrive. People can be evacuated in time, lives saved and livelihoods protected. Once again, early warnings systems are the smart choice and the most efficient of all disaster prevention measures,” Wahlström stressed.

The UNISDR Chief, who will be visiting Pakistan and Myanmar next month, is concerned about the increasing economic impacts of floods in the Asia region and their long term effects on people. She urges governments to increase their investments in disaster risk reduction as more severe and frequent floods can be expected in the future.

According to UNISDR’s 2011 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR11), extensive catastrophes such as floods are responsible for a small proportion of disaster related deaths. Nevertheless, they account for a significant chunk of damage to public assets, such as health and education facilities, as well as to the livelihoods, homes and assets of poor people. While many countries are making progress in systematically recording disaster losses, most losses due to extensive disaster events are unaccounted for.

“The invisible nature of this large volume of disaster loss is one reason why so many countries are finding it difficult to make both political and economic decisions to prioritize investment in disaster risk management”, states Wahlström adding that this concern will be one of the foremost issues during her upcoming visit to Asia.

In Cambodia, tens of thousands of hectares (acres) of rice paddies have been inundated. The same is true for Pakistan, where crops have been flooded, and in Thailand where more than two million acres of farmland are now under water.

“The whole region will now suffer from rising food prices as potential harvests have now been devastated. The damage is very serious this year and it will be some time before people can resume normal lives”, said Wahlström.

Many countries are already investing in disaster risk reduction measures and while there have been substantial achievements, the lack of capacities and limited resources continue to challenge most of them.

“The rising levels of damage to homes and schools because of floods are also alarming and must be addressed in a more systematic manner”, states Wahlström.

In Thailand more than 635 schools have been damaged while many children have now been out of school for two months. In Cambodia, some 300 schools were closed after the rains yesterday.

School damage and the loss of life and particularly those of children comes just as UNISDR and the coalition Children in a Changing Climate - PLAN International, Save the Children, UNICEF and World Vision - will focus on children and young people on the International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) on 13 October.

Under the slogan ‘Step Up for Disaster Risk Reduction’, a Children’s Charter for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) will be central to this year’s IDDR. It highlights five priorities identified through consultations with more than 600 children in 21 countries. Amongst those priorities are issues such as safe schools; child protection; participation; access to information; safe infrastructure; risk reduction and; protection for the most vulnerable.