Sustainable Development Blocked by Ruinous Natural Disasters
NEW YORK, New York, October 19, 2004 (ENS) - The number of people in the world struck by natural disasters has more than doubled over the last decade and economic losses have more than trebled, a top United Nations official told his counterparts in other UN agencies on Monday.
Jan Egeland, under-secretary-general of humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, told a committe of the UN General Assembly considering sustainable development that in 2003 alone, disasters had affected more than 254 million people. Locusts in Africa and tropical cyclones and floods in the Caribbean and Asia have already caused "immense losses" in 2004, he said.
Introducing a report from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on natural disasters and the El NiŮo phenomenon, Egeland urged governments to contribute to a new Early Warning Promotional Platform for natural disasters that has been set up in Bonn, Germany, under the auspices of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
The report notes that 700 natural disasters occurred in 2003, killing 75,000 people, affecting 250 million people and resulting in $65 billion in economic losses. Among those catastrophes, the December 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, claimed 26,000 lives.
Floods in China this year killed 46 million people, and flash floods in the Dominican Republic and Haiti in May devastated thousands.
Poverty, environmental degradation and lack of preparedness played a major role in turning natural hazards into disasters, the report warns. Inexpensive and simple measures exist to handle the environmental and social impact of disasters, while political commitment, appropriate resource allocation and strong institutional structures are necessary to implement such measures.
The costs of dealing with the adverse impact of climate change are rising, said Joke Waller-Hunter, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The good news, she said, is that the Kyoto Protocol on limiting the emission of six greenhouse gases, will enter into force 90 days after the Russian Federationís Parliament ratifies it, which would "launch a new phase of international cooperation to reduce climate change risks."
Waller-Hunter reported that the protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is up and running. This innovative financial mechanism channels private sector investment into emissions reduction projects for developing countries while offering industrialized countries credits against their Kyoto targets.
Sixty-four countries have designated authorities that will endorse CDM projects for activities such as landfill gas capture and flaring, incineration of hydrofluorocarbon waste streams, fuel switching and renewable energy.
Emissions trading initiatives are gaining wide support, said Waller-Hunter, and the European Unionís regional emissions trading system is already operational.
Japan is poised to introduce a pilot emissions trading program.
The private sector is doing its part, she said, with large oil companies such as British Petroleum and Shell setting up internal trading systems. The Chicago Climate Exchange was operational and had facilitated carbon trading on the Chicago Stock Exchange.
Common obstacles to sustainable growth in developing countries are insufficient financial resources, technology transfer, and capacities said Josť Antonio Ocampo, under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs.
Ocampo introduced reports on Agenda 21, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the International Year of Freshwater 2003, the Caribbean Sea area, and products harmful to health and the environment.
He explained to his colleagues that while funding is always tight it is most often provided by the public sector and there is "a lack of general commitment to sustainable development on the part of the private sector."
On the public sector side, Ocampo said that two years after the Johannesburg summit, governments are taking renewed action to pursue sustainable development goals. In the area of water and sanitation, ongoing efforts across the globe included measures to protect watersheds and construct latrines in elementary schools, which are dramatically improving the quality of life for poor people, said..
Hamdallah Zedan, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said Thailand ratified the Convention this past year, bringing the total number of signatories to 188. A total of 108 countries as well as the European Union have ratified or acceded to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said environmental problems are the greatest threat to humankind and stressed that sustainable development is a security imperative.
"Environmental degradation, social instability and war are interconnected," Topfer said.
Much has to been done for early warning assessment, he said, and the African Summit on Remote Sensing that was held Monday in Nairobi is important in that regard.
The outcome of the special session of UNEPís Governing Council had concentrated on the water agenda and the fact that adequate environmental services, especially effective water resource management, were necessary to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
UNEP has partnered with the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme to achieve water resource management targets, Toepfer said.
Effective chemical management is crucial to achieving the Millennium target of eliminating human health risks caused by chemicals by 2020, he said. There is a close relationship between the environmental and agricultural agendas in that regard and an agreement on organic pollutants management is necessary, said Toepfer. A first meeting of parties will be held in Uruguay next year to develop a strategic approach to chemical concerns.
In terms of environmental program financing, more that 100 countries are contributing and others were urged to do the same.
Anwarul Chowdhury, under-secretary-general and high representative for the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states, said the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction is particularly relevant to these countries that are ravaged by natural disasters, overwhelming their uphill efforts towards sustainable development.
Implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, he said, is linked to implementation of the UN Climate Change Convention and the Convention on Biodiversity. Together they can assist efforts to eradicate poverty and bring about sustainable human development, especially in countries that are vulnerable to desertification, climate change and diminishing biological diversity.
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