Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
      UNIS/SG/2684
        10 October 2000
     Secretary-General Stresses Need for Involvement of Women
    And Young People in World Disaster Reduction Efforts

     NEW YORK, 9 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message for International Day for Disaster Reduction, which is observed on 11 October:

     Our world is more vulnerable to hazards than ever before.  The number of lives lost in disasters is rising steadily.  The economic cost of disasters is rising even faster.  Yet we, as a community of nations, remain relatively passive.

     There is a growing awareness that what used to be called "natural" disasters are not so natural as they might appear.  Indeed, the community of professionals dedicated to the reduction of disasters has now dropped the word "natural" altogether.  That community's message is clear:  the main cause of rising losses is human activity.

     At the most dramatic level, human activities are changing the natural balance of the earth, interfering as never before with the atmosphere, the oceans, the polar ice caps, the forest cover and the thousand natural pillars that make our world a liveable home.

     In a less visible but equally sinister way, we are putting ourselves in harm's way.  At no time in human history have so many of us lived in cities clustered around seismically active areas.  Never before have so many people lived in flood plains or in areas prone to landslides, such as those which recently killed 30,000 people in Venezuela.  Through numbers, through poverty, through ignorance and through lack of foresight and planning, we are asking for trouble.

     At the same time, we are far from helpless.  New technologies make it possible to provide for us to achieve economic progress without gross interference with the earth's vital ecosystems.  There are also technologies that can reduce risk in earthquake-prone areas.  And planning tools and forecasting technology can help mitigate the devastation regularly wrought by floods.
     

     But those tools and technologies are too seldom used to help the poorest and most vulnerable, who make up the silent majority of the world's disaster victims.  Unless we learn to take the tools and technologies already developed in universities and research centres in various parts of the world, and apply them in the world's vulnerable communities, the prognosis will only get worse.

     The international community has adopted an International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, which is a three-way alliance between the United Nations, regional groupings and civil society.  This strategy, which is still in its infancy, offers some hope for a growing and coordinated global effort to roll back the tide of disasters.

     But new efforts are also required.  Two constituencies need urgently to be brought to the table:  women and young people.  If given a voice, they could give political weight to a cause that has hitherto been too technocratic.  Many of the technocratic solutions are already available.  As powerful forces for change, women and young people across the world can help those solutions reach the communities that need them most.

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