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7 July 1999

Press Release


19990707 Secretary-General Calls for Forum For Global Dialogue in Disaster Reduction within United Nations

GENEVA, 5 July (UN Information Service) -- The Programme Forum of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) opened today at the International Conference Centre of Geneva, with Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressing that it should not be forgotten that disaster prevention was a moral imperative, which was no less important than reducing the risks of war.

"As the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction draws to a close, we have achieved much, but we continue to confront major challenges", Mr. Annan said. "Policy is too important to be left to governments and international agencies alone. Achieving prevention requires better early warning of impending disasters to give vulnerable populations time to move out of harms way. It means better policies to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. But above all, it means greater efforts to reduce vulnerability in the first place."

Mr. Annan said that, in disaster reduction, the United Nations had a special leadership role thanks to its universal character, its broad policy agenda, its capacity for acting as an honest broker, and its vital role as a forum for global dialogue. Real progress would require Member States, non-governmental organizations and international organizations to work together on advocacy, networking and consensus-building, creating the sorts of global coalition seen in the campaigns to ban landmines and establish the International Criminal Court. Among the most pressing tasks was to create clear guidelines for future action at all levels, he added.

Underlining the importance of the application of science and technology to mitigate the impact of natural disasters, G.O.P. Obasi, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), stated that a strategy for the reduction of the impact of natural disasters should take into account "the need to critically assess the current state of the science and technology used in natural disaster reduction and prevention, identifying improvements made during the Decade". Mr. Obasi also proposed to further support the regional centres, especially those in developing countries which monitor and provide early warnings and establish necessary inter-agency arrangements.

- 2 - Press Release IHA/682 7 July 1999

In a message conveyed to the Programme Forum, Francesco Paolo Fulci, President of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, stated that "holding a substantive Forum as a component of ECOSOC already represents an important innovation. It will greatly facilitate the work of ECOSOC in providing a sound basis for decision-making on future arrangements".

Speaking as President of the Programme Forum, Nobutoshi Akao recalled that he served as Chairman of the 1994 World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction in Yokohama, where the "Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action for a Safer World" was adopted. He spread the Yokohama Message: "prevention is better than cure. The international community will need to build on the achievements and intentions of the IDNDR and continue to share their experience and disaster prevention technology as to further progress in mitigating the damage from natural disasters in the twenty-first century", said Mr. Akao.

Fan Baojun, Vice-Minister for Civil Protection, Director of the Chinese National Committee for IDNDR, stated that based on IDNDR achievements, it was necessary for the international community to make more efforts to mitigate natural disasters. "The developed countries should take effective measures to increase assistance to the developing countries in natural disaster reduction, and an effective international mechanism should be established after the IDNDR in order to promote exchanges and cooperation among developing countries", he added.

Astrid Fischel, Vice-President of Costa Rica, reaffirmed the importance of incorporating a global vision of disaster prevention and management in development plans and of promoting the planning process in order not to repeat the same errors.

C. Kert, President of the French National Committee for IDNDR, stressed the importance of political will in introducing disaster prevention policies and the need for all governments to continue national arrangements for disaster reduction in the twenty-first century.

Robert M. Hamilton, Chair of the IDNDR Scientific and Technical Committee, stressed the need to integrate disaster prevention and mitigation into overall economic planning and emphasized that the distinct nature of disaster prevention needed to be preserved.

The Programme Forum will end on 9 July. More than 700 people from over 120 countries are participating in it, including in the Sub-Forum convened by the WMO and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The challenge for the Programme Forum is to produce a strategy for action for the first years of the next century, which will serve as a frame of reference at the international, regional, national and local levels and in all disciplines, scientific, environmental, economic and social.

For more information, consult the IDNDR Web site, or contact Madeleine Moulin-Acevedo at the CICG on (41 22) 791 91 11.

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For information media. Not an official record.