From: Jerry Norton, Reuters
Published November 27, 2006 12:00 AM

Red Cross Says World Neglects Tsunami Risk Lessons

JAKARTA — The world could see a replay of the massive death and destruction caused by the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami if it fails to spend more on disaster risk reduction, the Red Cross/Red Crescent said on Monday.

The tsunami that left more than 200,000 people dead or missing around the Indian Ocean should have taught the value of preparedness, but "risk reduction has remained low on the international agenda," the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement.

It called for a rise in annual disaster preparedness global spending to $1 billion, 10 percent of the amount spent on humanitarian aid. The figure is now around four percent.

Too often "when the first assessment of damage is done and the costing of reconstruction after an earthquake or some other disaster is done, risk reduction is not immediately factored in," Johan Schaar, federation special representative for the tsunami, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"What's most often done is simply rebuilding what was there, (but) if what was there constituted risk for people it has to change" to reduce chances of similar death and destruction in the future.

Risk reduction can range from educating people in first aid and what to do if disasters occur, to protecting coastlines from tsunamis and implementing earthquake-safe construction codes.

Aside from the potential lives to be saved, the federation estimates a dollar spent on prevention can save as much as $10 in reconstruction and rebuilding costs.

In one such measure, the Indonesian Red Cross launched a radio network to transmit early warnings to communities in Aceh, the Indonesian province hardest hit by the tsunami with more than 170,000 killed or missing.

In such efforts, an important part of success is educating people on how to use the system, not just getting the hardware in place, said the Geneva-based Schaar, who was in Jakarta for meetings after a visit to Aceh.

"There's been good efforts at building this early warning system for the Indian Ocean countries but it's been a lot of focus on the technical aspects," he said.

"...if people are not reached by the warning and if they don't know what to do when the warning comes -- we often talk about the last mile of an early warning system -- then it will not be effective."

On other aspects of the tsunami recovery effort, Schaar said the federation as well as governments and other agencies have had to cope with unrealistic expectations at times.

In Aceh, for example, "it affected an area that had been in conflict for 20 years and you had weak government and very undeveloped infrastructure," he said, referring to a simmering civil war between separatists and the Indonesian government.

A peace agreement a few months after the tsunami has thus far been effective in stopping the Aceh fighting.

While reconstruction there is in "a dynamic phase" and a federation programme has helped get virtually all refugees who were in tents into better shelters, it will still be years before recovery is complete, Schaar said.

"...this is something we are going to be involved in for five years or more to really see this through," he said.

Source: Reuters

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