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Climate change can make disasters worse unless better preparation becomes a focus

Wednesday October 10, 2007

Australian Red Cross today called for increased investment in disaster reduction as the effects of climate change on the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events becomes apparent.

On the International Day for Disaster Reduction, Australian Red Cross CEO Robert Tickner said an increase in the frequency of floods and other meteorological events has affected millions of people around the globe.

'Between 2004 and 2006, the number of disasters that the International Red Cross and Red Crescent responded to increased from 278 to 482. Significantly, floods and other meteorological events have driven this increase,' Mr Tickner said. 'These disasters primarily affect the most vulnerable people, the elderly and the sick; the poorest of the poor in the poorest countries.'

'Natural hazards such as floods, typhoons or even non-climate related events like earthquakes become disasters only when they exceed a community's ability to cope,' Mr Tickner said.

'By increasing the focus on disaster preparedness, we can reduce the impact of extreme weather and geological events on communities -- saving lives in the first instance but also reducing the longer term impact on communities.'

Australian Red Cross is working with the International Red Cross movement to roll out a disaster preparedness program in the Pacific.

Incorporating education and awareness programs, the Pacific Strategic Engagement program will see 60 shipping containers filled with disaster relief materials including blankets, cooking sets and tarpaulins for shelter strategically placed around 11 nations in the Pacific region to better prepare those communities to respond to disaster.

'The deployment of the containers has been structured to minimise the geographic isolation that is such an enormous logistical hurdle when responding to events in the region,' said Mr Tickner. 'It is by addressing these needs that we can prevent an extreme weather or geological event from turning into a disaster.'

The education programs are not only designed to improve the response to extreme weather or geological events -- but also to minimise vulnerabilities before the event can become a disaster. This allows communities to return to normal life faster and reduces the longer term implications that can often last for months and sometimes years after the event has occurred.

'Some estimates suggest that as little as four per cent of annual humanitarian assistance goes towards reducing disaster risk. We believe that this must be significantly increased to at least 10 per cent if we as an international community are to take real strides towards securing the futures of vulnerable people,' said Mr Tickner