Australian agency urges greater disaster preparedness

By staff writers
January 6, 2007

Governments, aid agencies and humanitarian actors must spend twice as much on disaster preparedness activities that could save millions of lives, according to Robert Tickner, CEO of Australian Red Cross.

Almost two years on from the devastating Indian Ocean tsunamis that killed more than 200,000 people, Mr Tickner said this week that the necessary lessons had not been fully heeded.

"Although it is at the heart of all our relief and reconstruction work in tsunami-affected areas, risk reduction must become a high priority in disaster-prone areas right around the world," he declared.

According to the International Federation of the Red Cross, current global spending on disaster preparedness is around four per cent of the US 10 billion dollars spent annually on humanitarian aid. But this must rise to ten per cent to protect the lives of people in vulnerable communities.

Every dollar spent on prevention, says the International Federation, can save up to ten dollars on recovery.

"Risk reduction ranges from educating people in first aid and what to do if disasters occur, to protecting coastlines from tsunamis and implementing earthquake-safe construction codes. Australian Red Cross is currently involved in around 40 tsunami recovery programmes across the affected areas in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. All of these programs have a strong focus on risk reduction so that rebuilt communities are better prepared for future disasters," commented Mr Tickner.

He continued: "For example, we have completed 700 temporary living centres around Banda Aceh and constructed 254 permanent homes on Nias Island. More permanent houses are under construction as part of our overall tsunami response. All of our building projects are designed to withstand earthquakes."

Said the Australian Red Cross chiuef: "We have established an ambulance service in Aceh to help transport seriously ill and injured people to medical assistance, and are currently training both drivers and paramedics in the local community."

He went on: "In the Maldives, we have helped local communities on fifteen islands to clean up their devastated shore-lines and establish long term waste disposal and management programmes."

Mr Tickner added: "We endorse [former US] President Clinton's call for the international community, governments, aid agencies and donors to do more to prepare for disasters before they strike. We can't afford to waste this opportunity. We can't afford to continually spend millions of dollars on reactive responses, and we can't stand by whilst millions of people remain in harm's way."

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