Geneva, 14 October 2009 - The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) observes the International Day for Disaster Reduction on Wednesday against the backdrop of a number of catastrophic events in the Asia-Pacific region in recent weeks.
On 26 September, Typhoon Ketsana made landfall in the Philippines causing at least 300 deaths and some two million people to be displaced. Typhoon Parma followed on 3 October, devastating the agricultural sector and affecting more than 300,000 people.
The damage caused by the two storms is estimated at US$57 million in property and infrastructure, as well as monumental damage to agricultural production.
In addition, a series of earthquakes hit Samoa and Indonesia on 30 September, killing at least 1,300 people in Indonesia, and triggering a tsunami that sent huge waves crashing into the Samoan Islands, leaving 143 dead and entire villages flattened or submerged.
"Major disasters and humanitarian catastrophes often have secondary impacts, including damage to infrastructure and industrial installations" said René Nijenhuis of the Joint OCHA/UNEP Environment Unit (JEU) - the UN's mechanism for mobilizing a rapid environmental response to emergencies, which has deployed an environmental expert to the Philippines to provide specialized environmental expertise in disaster waste management.
"These impacts may pose a threat to the health, security and welfare of the affected population. Too often, these risks are neglected, resulting in preventable injuries and even deaths. A vital part of effective humanitarian response is to ensure that these environmental impacts are promptly identified, prioritized and addressed consistently as an integral part of effective emergency response."
Over a week after the passage of Typhoon Ketsana, large areas of the capital Manila and nearby provinces remained flooded with waist-high stagnant water, leading to risks of outbreaks of waterborne diseases and health hazards from overflowing solid waste and garbage that had filled drains and mixed with the waterways.
Environmental degradation is also increasingly recognized as a major factor in the rapid expansion of weather-related disaster risk.
The Global Assessment Report published earlier this year by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), which is based on more than 30 years of disaster data, found the degradation of ecosystems to be one of three main drivers of disaster risk.
Time is therefore of the essence in reversing the trend of environmental degradation, not only to reduce disaster risk, but also to provide vulnerable populations with better protection against disaster impacts.
Indeed, healthy ecosystems are the front line of defense against natural hazards. Intact coral reefs can act as natural wave barriers against storm surges by reducing wave energy, while forests protect communities against landslides and avalanches.
Through its Disaster Risk Reduction programme, UNEP advocates for ecosystems-based management approaches, for instance with respect to coastal zone and watershed management, in order to reduce the impacts of natural hazards on vulnerable populations.
Together with the ISDR and other actors in the Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (PEDRR) - a coalition of UN agencies and non-governmental organizations that it coordinates - UNEP also remains committed to strengthening global risk reduction strategies by ensuring that environmental factors are taken into account and that environmental management is integrated as a critical tool for reducing vulnerabilities and safeguarding development.
Note to Editors:
UNEP's Disasters and Conflicts programme seeks to minimize environmental threats to human well-being from the environmental causes and consequences of conflicts and disasters.
The programme is implemented through the Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch, which has responded to crisis situations in more than 25 countries since 1999, delivering high-quality environmental expertise to national governments and partners in the UN family. As the international community has shifted its focus from post-crisis intervention to crisis prevention, the branch has expanded its operational range, adding disaster risk reduction and environmental cooperation for peacebuilding to its core services of post-crisis environmental assessment and recovery. The branch is based in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit mobilizes and coordinates the international emergency response to acute environmental risks caused by conflicts, natural disasters and industrial accidents. The Unit is housed with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in Geneva, Switzerland, and works in close cooperation with the Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch.
The 2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction can be found online at: http://www.preventionweb.net/english/hyogo/gar/report/index.php?id=9413
For more information please contact:
Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media, on Tel: +41 79 596 5737, or Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Silja Halle, UNEP Communications Advisor, on Tel: +41 22 917 8441, or Email: email@example.com