Natural disasters: Rich countries also pay their toll

News and Press Release
Originally published
"The tragic series of natural hazards that has recently hit Japan reminds us that all countries, rich or poor, are subject to increasing threats from social vulnerability and natural hazards", - said Salvano Briceño, Director of ISDR, the UN secretariat in Geneva that focuses on disaster reduction. Japan suffered a record 10 landed typhoons this year (breaking the earlier record of 6), killing some 220 people. Super-typhoon 'Tokage' that struck the country last week was the worst event so far this year: it caused at least 80 deaths and 377 injuries in addition to extensive damage to property. During the past weekend, a series of strong earthquakes killed 25 people in Niigata Prefecture, 250 km northwest of Tokyo.

Natural hazards cannot be avoided but their dramatic consequences can be greatly reduced through appropriate preparedness and risk reduction measures including education, technology development, land-use planning and environmental protection. Japan is one of the best-prepared countries in the world against earthquakes and typhoons and the number of deaths would have been higher if these events happened in another country. Still, more than 2,500 houses were destroyed, and 1,200 buildings and 1,000 roads were damaged.

The rains brought by the heavy typhoon season worsened the soil and caused unusual landslides when the earthquake occured. Climate change is apparently already having an impact on the frequency and the intensity of tropical cyclones. According to a recent article in the Journal of Climate, of September 2004, global warming induced by greenhouse gases may lead to a gradually increasing risk in the occurrence of highly destructive Category 5 storms (the highest in the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale: maximum sustained wind speed greater than 155 miles per hour) and greater precipitation rates.

The World Conference on Disaster Reduction to be held in Kobe, Hyogo (Japan) in January 2005 will provide an opportunity to draw attention to all layers of government, national and local, wherever they are, that they have a responsibility in identifying risks, and in reducing vulnerability to protect their people. "International cooperation to reduce risk and vulnerability and build communities resilience must become a first priority in the coming years, - rich and poor nations need to work it out together" says Salvano Briceño.

For more information please contact:

Brigitte Leoni, Media Relations
World Conference on Disaster Reduction
Inter.-Agency Secretariat of the International Strategy for
Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR)
Tel: + 41 22 917 49 68 / +33 (0) 6 26 37 88 61
E-mil: leonib@un.org