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"Countering Disasters, Targeting Vulnerability"
10 October 2001

The annual observance of the International Day for Disaster Reduction offers an opportunity for the world community to focus its attention on preventing natural disasters and improving the way we deal with the consequences. The past year has seen no let-up in the growing incidence of natural disasters. Powerful earthquakes struck India, El Salvador and Peru; floods ravaged Africa and South Asia; droughts continued to plague Afghanistan, Central America, and Sri Lanka; and volcanic activity has again struck Ecuador. The global toll of devastation and death has left families and economies reeling. And in some cases, natural disasters can amplify man-made emergencies, as we are all too aware from unfolding events in Afghanistan.

Along with the growing number of natural disasters, vulnerability is also increasing. While no country is entirely safe, poorer countries in particular lack the capacity to and prevent and prepare for disasters. With the urban population of developing countries having reached more than 1.3 billion, people are forced to inhabit disaster-prone areas such as flood plains and deforested lands. Inadequate planning and land-use further raise the risks.

The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) aims to limit the losses and suffering. The strategy calls on local communities to mobilize, for example by developing risk maps and early warning systems. It urges Governments to create and enforce strict building codes. And it seeks to exploit scientific and technical knowledge to devise responses that go beyond short-term humanitarian assistance. United Nations agencies and their partners are strongly committed to carrying out this strategy by bringing people and expertise together in the search for solutions.

Natural hazards will always challenge us. But it is within our power to ensure that poverty does not turn hazards into unmanageable disasters. And it is within our power to join forces, address the immense complexities of disaster reduction, and build a world of resilient communities and nations equipped to counter the adverse impact of natural hazards and related environmental and technological disasters.