Accessibility links

How Should the World Protect Itself from Natural Disasters?

Samuel and his father, Phillip, at back, pick through the debris of their house in Port Vila, Vanuatu in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam Monday, March 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Dave Hunt, Pool)

Samuel and his father, Phillip, at back, pick through the debris of their house in Port Vila, Vanuatu in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam Monday, March 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Dave Hunt, Pool)

How should the world protect itself from natural disasters and climate change? And who should be paying for this kind of protection? These and other questions are being asked at the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. The conference is taking place this week in Sendai, Japan. A powerful earthquake and tsunami struck the area four years ago.

A cold wind blows sand along the coast of Sendai. Japanese police officers are searching for evidence in the area. They are examining material washed up on the sand for signs of the March 2011 tsunami. Huge waves struck northern Japan and killed close to 16,000 people. More than 2,500 others are missing and thought to be dead.

Officer Hidenori Kashahara is taking part in the search effort. He says Japan owes it to the families of the missing to keep looking.

“We have not found anyone for a while in this area,” he says. “We sometimes find bones, but they are usually the remains of animals.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Sendai earlier this week. He praised the recovery effort as a model for others.

“Sustainability starts in Sendai. The disaster risk reduction can be a frontline against the climate change.”

Last week, Cyclone Pam struck the island nation of Vanuatu. The powerful storm changed its expected path at the last minute. The president of Vanuatu told the UN conference that development in his country had been stopped -- “wiped out” were his exact words.

Michel Jarraud is the head of the World Meteorological Organization. He told VOA that early warning systems had saved lives in the South Pacific. He spoke about Cyclone Pam.

“This kind of cyclone is very unusual. We are not even sure at this stage because we still need to wait to see what was the exact strength of this cyclone, but it’s very unusual. And it’s even more challenging for a country to deal with hazards which don’t happen regularly.”

In late 2004, an earthquake hit the northwestern coast of Indonesia, causing a tsunami across the Indian Ocean. More than 200,000 people were killed. The tsunami led the United Nations to approve a 10-year program for reducing disaster risk. It is called the Hyogo Framework for Action. That 10-year period is ending this week. Delegates to the conference are trying to reach a new agreement.

Tom Mitchell works at the Overseas Development Institute, an environmental and humanitarian policy group. He says the cost of natural disasters should force agreement.

“Three hundred billion dollars of losses from disasters every year -- so it’s very much at stake that you’ve got this big financial toll, but in some ways, you know, this isn’t causing the galvanizing effect that we want to see in terms of investment in resilience.”

Mr. Mitchell says a few issues have slowed progress toward an agreement.

“Finance, who’s gonna pay for the scale of the problem, particularly given that climate change is ramping this up and there’s an expectation on the richer, polluting countries to pay a bit more. That’s a sticking point. Issues of whether we are talking about conflict risk and disaster risk together and the link between those (are) really problematic for some countries, particularly in the Middle East.”

Delegates mostly agree that natural disasters are causing bigger problems. But they are having a difficult time deciding how to reduce the risks. The severe damage caused by Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu is pressuring them to reach an agreement on how the world should deal with natural disasters.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Henry Ridgwell reported this story from Sendai, Japan. George Grow wrote it for VOA Learning English. Christopher Jones-Cruise was the editor.


Words in This Story

protectv. to guard; to defend; to prevent from being harmed or damaged

disaster(s)n. an event causing widespread destruction or loss of life, such as an earthquake or plane crash

sand n. extremely small pieces of crushed rock found in large amounts in deserts and on coasts

evidence n. material or facts that prove something; a reason for believing

Is your country at risk from natural disasters? If so, how are you preparing for them? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the comments section.

Show comments