Opening ceremony of the Fourth Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction at the International Conference Center of Geneva, 21 May 2013. Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré / UN

New York, 22 May 2013 (AFP) – The world needs to wake up to the risk of a spike in natural disasters linked to climate change and strive to find ways to cut the human and economic cost, the United Nations warned yesterday. "We live in a time of huge natural disasters which are made worse by climate change," the UN's deputy secretary-general, Jan Eliasson, told reporters at the start of a three-day conference on risk reduction in Geneva.

"Natural disasters are not only becoming more frequent but are becoming more vehement," he warned.

A report last week from the UN International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) said that losses may have hit $2.5 trillion so far this century. The UNISDR said that the figure, which factored in national-level disasters that are not reported to the world body, was 50 percent higher than past estimates.

"So we have to think of this from the point of protecting people, and the price people pay. But we also have to think of economic losses. They are huge," said Eliasson.

"It's not only a question of improving lives for people, but a question of creating sustainable economies," he added.

UNISDR has gathered more than 4,000 people in Geneva this week to share lessons on how to reduce the impact of disasters, from governments, aid agencies and the private sector. […]

Experts repeatedly have warned that extremes like last year's Hurricane Sandy in the Caribbean and United States could strike more often due to climate change, as rising global temperatures send weather patterns askew and governments wrangle over reining in emissions of greenhouse gases which are blamed for the phenomenon.

"Changes that are taking place, and that we're concerned about, include an increase in heatwaves, both in intensity and frequency, increase in extreme precipitation events, and also extreme sea-level related impacts because of the increase in Arctic sea level," said Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. [more]

Climate-change disasters worry UN

GENEVA, 21 May 2013 (UNISDR) – A global gathering which will prove critical for the future of reducing risk from disasters opened to a record attendance today with many expressions of sympathy to the people of Oklahoma City over the loss of life caused yesterday by a deadly tornado that damaged schools and took many lives including those of at least 20 school children.

Speaking at the opening of the 4th Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, the President of Switzerland, Ueli Maurer, extended his country's condolences to the victims of the tornado in Oklahoma City and said that disasters were of concern to everyone, no matter where they occurred.

UN Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, said: "Disaster risk reduction is essential to reach the Millennium Development Goals. There can be no sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation if water sources and latrines are vulnerable to natural hazards. Hospitals and other community structures must be resilient. It is not acceptable that so many people die in disasters because of shoddy building standards."

He urged conference participants to build on the achievements of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) -- the existing global agreement on disaster risk reduction - and to address the gaps and challenges in the creation of the HFA2. The Global Platform is an opportunity to build consensus ahead of the 2015 World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction. Over 40 consultations have already taken place on the HFA2.

Declaring the conference open, Mr. Martin Dahinden, Director-General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, told the packed conference centre : "This coming together of such a tremendous wealth of expert knowledge and experience sets the stage to further reduce disaster losses of lives and social, economic and environmental assets in communities and countries."

Some 4,800 have registered to attend the Global Platform -- organized by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - including delegates from 165 governments, 130 academic institutions, 209 NGOs and 67 private sector companies.

Global disasters event opens with condolences for Oklahoma city tornado victims



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