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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 September, 2004, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
'Sustainable relief' is needed
By Ben Sutherland
BBC News Online in Barcelona

A woman takes cover on Grenada during Hurricane Ivan (AP)
The Caribbean experience suggests some good work has been done
Governments in areas prone to natural disasters such as flooding, landslides and drought have been urged to turn the aftermath of catastrophic events into greatly improved living conditions for the people affected.

Alfonso Calzadilla, of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, told the World Urban Forum in Barcelona that the new city of Ciudad Espana in Honduras - built after Hurricane Mitch swept through Central America in 1998 - was the best example of a "disaster reduction initiative".
Urban planners should think of an urban setting which is self sustaining and environmentally friendly.
Eric, Limassol, Cyprus

He said that the 14,000 Honduran families who had lost their homes had rebuilt their own houses with an awareness of the potential for future problems - which meant they had a much improved capacity for dealing with disaster.

The city was "increasing group identity and citizen awareness", Mr Calzadilla said. "This is a living project," he added.

Without commitment from the governments, it will be very difficult to get a sustainable solution
Helena Molin Valdes, UN International Strategy for Disaster Resolution
Mr Calzadilla contrasted Cuidad Espana with a study of the population of Papua New Guinea's Manam Island - home to a potentially devastating active volcano - which found that only 11% of islanders knew the risks of residency there.

Further, only 6% knew what to do about them; none at all knew what the government's evacuation plan entailed.

From crisis to crisis

He said that a "pro-poor approach" - putting those most likely to be affected by environmental hazards at the heart of decision-making - had massive potential to reduce the problems resulting from natural disasters.

Mr Calzadilla's comments echoed those from many organisations at the Forum urging "sustainable relief".

People walk with their belongings across lava fields in Goma (AP)
"Citizen awareness" is key
Kenneth Westgate, the regional adviser on Africa to the United Nations Development Programme, argued that it was important not simply to return things "back to normal" after a disaster, but actually to improve the situation of those affected.

He highlighted the fact that the Kenyans currently suffering the effects of drought in the country had also done so two years ago.

"What we've done is keep people alive in 2002 in order that they experience the relief operation in 2004," he said.

"We must get rid of that normality."

There were also calls for governments to plan for risks that do not exist yet - including the potential for disaster caused by climate change - as many more cities globally come under threat.

While the death rate from natural disasters had fallen over the last 20 years, there has been a 17-fold increase in the economic cost.

Allan Lavell, who studies disaster prevention in Latin America for the NGO La Red, said that some countries were already setting aside money for what was termed "adaptation" to the effects of climate change.

Better communication

The Central American state of El Salvador, he said, could potentially lose 25% of its land mass as a result of rising sea levels.

"If that happens, many, many cities are going to be under a lot of water," he stated.

"We cannot divorce global climate change from local everyday risk factors... climate change is a part of our present. It is part of our future and part of our past."

He urged much greater co-ordination between urban planners and scientists and experts tracking the effects and potential consequences of climate change.

"Risk management guys hardly ever talk to the climate change guys," he pointed out.

Meanwhile Helena Molin Valdes, from the UN International Strategy for Disaster Resolution, said the comparatively low death toll caused by Hurricane Ivan in the Caribbean so far showed that "we are doing at least a few things right."

"We are doing better," she added.

But she stressed the importance of persuading governments to take sustainable relief seriously.

"Without commitment from the governments, it will be very difficult to get a sustainable solution," she said.

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