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ASSESSING IMPACT AND VULNERABILITY

Following the emergency response to the disaster, detailed assessments of the environmental impact and vulnerability will have to be carried out. Such assessments are necessary not only for rehabilitation activities, but also for future planning to reduce vulnerability and enhance disaster preparedness. A UNEP Asian Tsunami Disaster Task Force, established immediately after the disaster to coordinate UNEP's contribution to the UN wide response and to identify and alleviate the environmental impacts of the disaster, initiated this work soon after it was set up (Box 1). In the weeks following the disaster, UNEP mobilized 12 environmental experts to provide environmental assistance to the affected countries and the UN country teams.

Box 1: UNEP's role in the response to the disaster

Immediately after the tsunami struck, UNEP's Executive Director established the UNEP Asian Tsunami Disaster Task Force to coordinate and integrate UNEP's contribution to the UN response to the tsunami disaster. UNEP was in direct contact with relevant environmental authorities in the hardest hit countries and received a number of requests for assessing and addressing urgent environmental issues. In order to respond to these, UNEP made US$1 million available for immediate environmental activities and made flash appeals for emergency waste management and environmental assessments, among other purposes.

UNEP also offered remote sensing expertise to the UN system in cooperation with UNDP. Images were obtained and analyzed in order to determine secondary environmental risks from damage to industrial sites. Similar work was undertaken in the areas of biodiversity impacts, particularly with regard to coral reefs, shorelines and protected areas. UNEP also linked to early warning experts and looked into ways of supporting the establishment of an early warning system in cooperation with others.

UNEP developed a five-pillar approach that can be summarized as follows:

  • Respond to the requests by affected countries;
  • Mobilize immediate environmental assistance by integrating environmental needs into the humanitarian flash appeal;
  • Mobilize environmental recovery by integrating environment into the recovery and reconstruction needs assessments;
  • Establish and advocate an environmental agenda to reconstruct affected areas; and
  • Develop early warning systems.

Source: UNEP 2005a

The vulnerability of coastal areas to disasters and the need to take this into account in planning and coastal zone management is well known. High population densities, infrastructure and property development in coastal areas all contribute to higher social, economic and environmental consequences in case of disasters. Approximately three billion people, half the world's population, live within 200 km of a coastline. The average population density in coastal areas is about 80 persons/km2, twice the global average (UNEP 2005b). Of the world's 17 largest cities, 14 are located along coasts - and 11 of these are in Asia. In addition, two-fifths of cities with populations of one million to 10 million people are located near coastlines (Figure 3) (Creel 2003).

Figure 3: Coastal population

Source: UNEP 2002

The vulnerability of SIDS to coastal disasters is of increasing concern, and regional efforts are underway to reduce the impact of such disasters (UNEP 2005c, d and e). However, most of the SIDS have limited capacity to deal with such disasters and meet their associated costs, and often rely on international assistance to develop capacity for national disaster preparedness and to create appropriate insurance schemes.

The Indian Ocean tsunami once again underlines the increased vulnerability of certain sections of society. UN agencies such as the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Development Fund for Women have reported that women and children have been the worst affected both during and after the disaster. For instance, preliminary reports indicate that of the 206 bodies found in one coastal village in Tamil Nadu, India, 26 were men, 96 women, and 84 children (Waldman 2004). In Aceh, which suffered two-thirds of the total death toll of the tsunami, women comprise an estimated 70 per cent of the population due to out-migration of men since the 1980s. As in many other affected parts, women play a central role in society in this province, heading households, sustaining subsistence economies, raising children, and caring for the sick, wounded, and elderly, while bearing the violence of civil war and the burden of poverty (UNOCHA 2005a)


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