Indonesia

Asia: IFRC urges greater commitment to risk reduction

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BANGKOK, 17 December 2009 (IRIN) - More funds and policies are needed for disaster risk reduction to protect vulnerable communities in the Asia Pacific region, says the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The call comes as the IFRC marks the fifth anniversary of the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 50,000 people whose bodies were never found.

"We're calling for greater awareness, greater commitment, in terms of funding but also in terms of actions on all of our part, because that's really what we believe is going to save lives in the long run," Al Panico, head of the IFRC's tsunami unit, told reporters at a 17 December briefing on lessons learnt after the tsunami.

That means "developing a policy, including it in programmes and . incorporating it into the response areas that are funded by donors, doing what people said they would do, and connecting the early warning systems to the community", he said.

The Asia Pacific region experiences major disasters but the IFRC said the main threat came from localized, small-scale disasters - which have increased from an average of 21 in 2004 to 51 in 2008 - and more risk-reduction activities were needed.

Panico said much had been done to improve early warning systems in the region after the tsunami, but there was a gap in communicating warnings to people potentially affected by disasters.

"Getting [messages] to the people who need to act, the people in the community, the people on the ground who need to . protect themselves in some way, is the challenge. And that's where there is a gap," he said.

Humanitarian reform

The tsunami was caused by a 9.15 magnitude earthquake off Indonesia, which lasted for nearly 10 minutes. It led to destruction on an immense scale, but was matched by an unprecedented outpouring of donations, and the biggest response and recovery operation since World War II, said Panico.

"This disaster touched everyone, everywhere," he said.

The cost of rebuilding damaged infrastructure has been estimated at US$10.9 billion, according to the IFRC, citing UN and government agencies.

By December 2005, $14 billion had been pledged, with $11.6 billion either committed or received by NGOs, the Red Cross movement and UN agencies.

Challenges included a lack of government capacity in the coordination of relief efforts, immense logistical problems with infrastructure destroyed, as well as demands for increased accountability.

However, Panico said the disaster had also sparked reform of humanitarian action by a number of governments. It also helped establish the cluster system - which better coordinates agencies' efforts - and brought in recovery activities as a key element of disaster relief.

Having learnt these lessons, efforts moved from relief to recovery in three months following the earthquake off West Sumatra in Indonesia in September this year, which Panico said was "unheard of in previous disasters".

The tsunami "has changed for ever the way that we respond", he added.

The IFRC, with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, also launched a multimedia web documentary on how tsunami survivors have recovered since the disaster.

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