|Better disaster planning essential
to saving lives
||Jan 6th, 2005
by Jim Anderson
The disaster from
the earthquake and resulting tsunami in south Asia will send a
strong message to world leaders in Kobe, Japan later this
month that more must be done to mitigate loss in life and
property from such disasters.
“Our thoughts are with
the many people who have been deeply affected by this tragedy,
and our hope is that our research will serve as a foundation
of knowledge that strengthens society's resilience to future
hazards,” says Paul Kovacs, Executive Director of Western’s
Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR), Faculty of
“I do believe that the remarkable events
in south Asia provide important lessons for Canada,” says
Kovacs, also an Adjunct Research Professor in Western’s
Department of Economics.
“First, severe hazards can
strike anytime and anywhere. Every part of Canada, for
example, is vulnerable to natural hazards, and the impacts can
be very destructive if we are not prepared. Second,
investments in disaster safety can significantly reduce the
risk of loss. Modern, well-engineered structures across south
Asia, for example, held up very well to what was the fourth
largest earthquake in the past century and one of the largest
Kovacs adds: “Third, the best time to
prepare for hazards is when all is well, and Canadians should
be investing now in hazard safety. We should establish a
culture of hazard safety.”
An international conference
at Western on water-related disasters, held only two weeks
before the south Asian earthquake and tsunami struck on
December 26, is sending a strong message that more must be
done to mitigate the loss in property and life from such
disasters around the world.
Hosted by the ICLR, the
workshop December 13-14 attracted nearly 100 participants from
Canada, Germany, Venezuela, Japan, Australia, Austria,
Nigeria, France, Ghana and Jamaica.
knowledge and expertise about international, national and
local initiatives aimed at minimizing loss from water-related
disasters. They included representatives of UNESCO, the
International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), UN
University and other international and national organizations.
“The goal of the conference was to bring a strong
message of consensus to the World Conference on Disaster
Reduction in Kobe, Japan,” says Western engineering professor
Slobodan Simonovic, Chair in Engineering of the ICLR.
“The connecting thread that came from our discussions
was the particular need for changing the way we deal with
floods and drought. There is strong consensus that floods and
other water-related disasters are going to continue in the
future. We have to learn how to live with them and find a
better way to manage these disasters and minimize damage and
loss of life.”
During the last decade, more than 2,000
water-related disasters occurred globally with a cost of $50
billion to $60 billion a year and the loss of thousands of
lives. The south Asian earthquake and tsunami has taken more
than 150,000 lives and created billions of dollars in damage.
The conference heard presentations from some of the
world’s leading researchers, policy and decision-makers in
catastrophic loss reduction.
Gordon McBean, Chair in
Policy at the ICLR and a Western geography and political
science professor, chaired a session on living with risks,
coping capacity and disaster risk reduction.
session looked at the intersection of climate policy, risk
management and water management issues.
was to deal with these in a more comprehensive way rather than
separately,” says McBean.
“We need to shift our focus
to flood recovery – let it happen and spend more to fix it up
later as opposed to spending money in advance in an attempt to
prevent these disasters from happening.”
at flood prevention have been expensive and largely
unsuccessful, he observed.
“We have developed a strong
consensus and message to the politicians that we need to do
better and we can do better in managing water-related
disasters,” says Kovacs.
investment and the redirection of resources into prevention
offer significant benefits as well as reduction in loss of
life and personal property.”
Some of the messages
contained in the draft document for Kobe, Japan include:
-Despite well over a hundred years of massive human
interventions and flood control measures, the frequency and
severity of water-related disasters are on the rise.
-One of the challenges is risk management. Floods and
droughts may vary in severity and measures may be taken to
influence their impact, but there is recognition that they
will always remain recurring yet incidental phenomena of the
-Focus on sustainable reduction of
vulnerability through an integrated approach to water-related
-The role of political will and governance
is important in creating a framework that makes sustainable
water-related disaster reduction possible.
-Assessment, monitoring and early warning of
water-related hazards can contribute to mitigating risks and