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Red Cross: Average of 1,000 People Die Each Week Due to Natural Disasters - 2002-06-18

The Red Cross says, on average, about 1,000 people lose their lives every week because of natural disasters. In a new report, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says if governments want to limit the damage done by natural disasters, they have to spend more money preparing for them.

Every year for the past 10 years the Red Cross has issued a World Disasters Report. This year's report has a message for government leaders as well as humanitarian agencies. It says, while governments and agencies may issue ambitious statements about cutting poverty and hunger in half by the year 2015, those goals will never be reached unless governments do more to reduce risks from natural disasters.

Peter Walker, the editor of the report, says the Red Cross wants countries to figure in disaster preparedness along with their development goals.

"Every country should aim to halve the number of people affected by disaster in their territory," he said. "By the year 2015, every country should have a disaster mitigation strategy in place."

Mr. Walker says that a big financial investment is not always necessary to reduce the loss of life. He says the flooding that hit Mozambique two years ago would not have cost nearly as many lives if a few river gauges that warn about rising waters had been in place. After the floods, international donors provided Mozambique with $470 million to rebuild infrastructure but neglected to target enough money to replace the river gauges.

Mr. Walker points to Bangladesh as an example of a country that has successfully invested in disaster preparedness. In 1970, 500,000 people were killed in Bangladesh when a major cyclone struck. In the years after that, the government established a system that warned people living along the coast of an impending storm. Mr. Walker says the system proved its worth in 1997, when another cyclone struck Bangladesh.

"By 1997, the picture has changed dramatically," he said. "Same sort of event, 260 people killed, 1.6 million people evacuated. An absolute classic example of risk management."

Mr. Walker says the Bangladesh government, the country's technical institutions and the Red Cross worked together to provide an early warning system and cyclone shelters that helped to save countless lives.