The occurrence of a disaster can be shattering to any country or region all over the globe. The occurrence of such disasters is often unexpected, making it hard to avoid the upsetting effects. However, there are measures that can be put in place to minimize the hurtful effects when disasters strike. Disaster, in this context, refers to both naturally occurring and human caused occurrences that can adversely affect communities in various parts of the globe. These include earthquakes, forest fires, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, explosions, tornadoes, and hazardous material spills, among others. The United Nations (UN) has put in place different measures in the area of emergency and disaster management. There have been different initiatives of the United Nations in improving the preparedness and disaster resilience of all its member states, both currently and in the past. This paper seeks to explore and describe some of these initiatives, their effectiveness and the obstacles faced by these initiatives.
International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR)
On the 11th day of December 1987, the general assembly of the UN declared that the 1990s will be the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). The aimed at promoting internationally coordinated efforts in the reduction of material loss, as well as the economic and social disruptions that are caused by natural disasters, especially in the developing nations. IDNDR had a mission to improve the ability to lessen or avert adverse effects of natural disasters in all the UN member states. IDNDR established guiding principles for the application of the existing science and technology to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters.
In 1989, the IDNDR called upon the various agencies of the UN to develop the capability of the member states to diminish the effects of natural tragedies successfully and expeditiously. This is achieved through:
- First, exceptional consideration in assisting the developing nations in their means of assessing tragedy destruction potential and establishing timely cautionary systems and disaster-resistant structures when needed.
- Secondly, various UN agencies have a responsibility to devise appropriate guidelines and strategies for the application of available technical and scientific knowledge in disaster mitigation without forgetting about economic and societal assortment among member states.
- Third is the fostering of engineering and scientific endeavors, in order to close the dangerous gaps in knowledge with the ultimate goal of reducing loss of life and property.
- Fourth is the dissemination of the current and first-hand technical material information on procedures for the forecasting, evaluation and alleviation of natural adversities.
- Fifth is the development of measures for the valuation, forecasting, deterrence and alleviation of natural tragedies through platforms of technical support. It involves knowledge transfer, education and trainings designed for specific disaster localities, demo projects, as well as assessment of the efficacy of these programs.
This was followed up by the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), which was mandated to ensure that the pushtoward making the word safer is maintained.
International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR)
The UNISDR spearheads the efforts of the worldwide community in all-inclusive tragedy controlling mission. UNISDR strives to build societies that are calamity resilient by supporting augmented consciousness about the significance of calamity prevention as a central component of sustainable growth. This is aimed at reducing the social, human, economic and environmental losses caused by natural vulnerabilities and related technological and environmental disasters.
All governments of the member states of the UN are expected to do the following at the national level:
- Create tragedy alleviation platforms for the nation, which are fully integrated into the national development programs. These should include resource use, financial and insurance programs for adversity prevention, especially in the developing nations.
- Participate during the IDNDR in concerted international action for the mitigation of natural disasters, and, as appropriate, create national committees in collaboration with relevant technological and scientific communities and other concerned sectors with the view of achieving the objectives of the decade.
- Take applicable procedures to create communal awareness of the damages, significance of vigilance, avoidance, risk possibilities, aid and short-term reclamation activities with regard to natural calamities. This can be done through public education and training, with the news media playing a major role.
- Expand the early global accessibility of suitable emergency materials through the packing or allocation of such materials in tragedy prone regions.
- Pay due attention to the impacts of disasters on healthcare, and take actions to mitigate the vulnerability of hospitals and healthcare facilities, human housing, foodstuff storage amenities among additional communal and economic infrastructure.
- Encourage the local administration structure to take applicable actions to rally the needed backing from both private organizations and public sector towards the achievement of the decade’s goal.
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Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action for a Safer World
Another initiative of the UN was started in May 1994 at the World conference on Natural Disaster reduction in Yokohama Japan. After assessing the progress attained by IDNDR, the meeting came up with the Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action for a Safer World (UNISDR.org, 2014). Through this document, the UN affirmed that:
- The effects of natural calamities in terms of human and financial loses had risen in recent years, with additional people being vulnerable to these disasters. It was established that the most affected people are the socially disadvantaged, such as the poor; they are least prepared to deal with disasters.
- Nations should integrate disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness and relief in their development plans at all levels – community, national, sub-regional and international levels.
- With the world being increasingly interdependent, all countries should embrace the spirit of collaboration in order to create a safer world. Regional and transnational collaboration based on mutual interests and collectiveduty to protect human lives will significantly enhance the ability to achieve real progress in adversity alleviation.
- The knowledge and the required technology must be readily available to all freely and in a well-timed manner, especially to developing nations.
- Public participation and active involvement should be greatly invigorated, in order to provide insight into the singular and communal view of danger and improvement. This is fundamental in understanding the cultural and organizational characteristics, as well as the society’s behavioral interaction with the physical and natural environment. Such information is critical in determining the things that support or impedeavoidance or alleviation, or boost/hinder the conservation of environment. The information helps in finding efficient and effective means to reduce the impacts of disasters.
The Yokohama Strategy and related plan of action stipulates that each Nation has a sovereign responsibility to protect its citizens from natural disasters (UNISDR.org, 2014).
Have These Initiatives Helped the United States?
The initiatives and guidelines outlined by the UN with regard to disaster risk reduction and management have helped the United States in putting up measures to deal with different disaster occurrences. The US has different measures in place in various locations that are prone to different disaster occurrences (Bennett, 2012). The Unites states has a national agency that deals with disasters, in the name of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA has initiated different projects all over the nation to deal with calamities. These projects involve preparation measures for tragedy mitigation, disaster survivor assistance and response and rescue. FEMA provides developmental strategies and projects for early warning, restoration from disaster, and restoration and post-tragedy rebuilding. One should remember that the US has experienced increased severity of disasters, ranging from earthquakes, Hurricanes and tornado to volcanic eruptions. There are specialized departments all over the nation in universities, large companies and government establishments that have professionals dealing with disaster related activities, such as prediction of disasters and increasing public awareness (Bennett, 2012).
Obstacles to Disaster Mitigation Initiatives
There are several challenges and impediments that are faced by these tragedy alleviation initiatives. One of the primary challenges to tragedy risk lessening is the political assurance and preparedness to dedicate different agencies and availableassets to tragedy risk prevention (Coppola, 2011). The poor nations are most susceptible to disasters. It is, therefore, hard for these nations to commit substantial assets to disaster preparedness and mitigation, while they have other pressing issues (such as combating poverty, disease and undernourishment), as they have limited resources.
Another challenge is the unsafe building and construction practices that are evident in the growing urban settlements, especially in the developing countries. In India, for instance, the occurrence of an earthquake in the densely populated seismic zones can have catastrophic effect in terms of fatalities. The eminent climate change has also caused challenges in disaster risk mitigation efforts. The unpredictability of the frequency and intensity of storms, cyclones, landslides, flash floods, forest fires and droughts makes it difficult to effectively minimize the risk when these disasters strike (Coppola, 2011).
Lack of proper harmonization between the disaster risk reduction (DRR) actors is an additional challenge. One can find that some areas have proper DRR measures put in place, but a few miles away, nothing much has been done yet the place is more susceptible to calamity and needs more action. Lastly, there is a lack of all-inclusive DRR projects. Such projects should emphasize on all aspects, such as social, education, infrastructure among others, in addition to expertise diversification to increase the aptitude to handle with adversity situations.