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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 January, 2005, 08:40 GMT
World urged to learn from tsunami
Refugees queue for food in Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Millions have been affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami
An international conference on natural disasters has opened with calls on the world to heed the lessons of last month's Indian Ocean tsunami.

The meeting held in Kobe in Japan, coincides with the 10th anniversary of the earthquake that ravaged the city.

But delegates are expected to focus on the recent tsunami, which killed more than 160,000 people in 12 countries.

UN humanitarian affairs chief Jan Egeland called for better protection for poor, vulnerable communities.

The five-day meeting had been scheduled to take place before December's earthquake off Indonesia and the devastating waves it triggered.

The best way we can honour the dead is to protect the living
Jan Egeland
The 3,000 delegates in Kobe are expected to discuss ways to set up a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean, similar to the one that exists in the Pacific.

Experts say countless lives could have been saved had such a system been in place.

"The best way we can honour the dead is to protect the living," Mr Egeland said at the start of the meeting.

Prevention

The BBC's Charles Scanlon in Kobe says that delegates recognise that technology alone will not be enough to mitigate the impact of future disasters.

UN officials say the emphasis needs to be put on communities themselves so warnings can be effective at the local level.

In 2002, 300 million people were affected by drought in India, and millions more by similar problems in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. Flooding in China affected 190 million.
Children need to be taught safety drills and hospitals, schools and health centres should be robust enough to withstand earthquakes and floods, the meeting heard.

In a report issued ahead of the conference, the UN said that least 2.5 billion people had been affected by natural disasters over the past 10 years - an increase of 60% over the previous decade.

Floods and earthquakes are the deadliest natural disasters, accounting for more than half of the total casualties, the report says.

Asia is named as the continent most affected during the period, accounting for more than half the casualties and more than 90% of those injured, left homeless or needing emergency assistance.

Numbers worldwide peaked in 2002, with millions affected by floods in Asia, and drought in India, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

In India alone, 300 million people were affected across 16 states by the country's worst drought since 1987. In China, floods affected more than 190 million people.

The UK's international development minister has called on government officials at the conference to boost spending on risk reduction.

"Poorer countries have fewer resources to cope with disasters and so are more vulnerable," Gareth Thomas said, "yet measures are available now such as early warning systems that could save lives."

The Kobe earthquake killed more than 6,400 of the city's residents.


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