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UN Delegates Adopt Disaster Relief Plan

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Delegates representing more than 150 countries approved an action plan Saturday to reduce casualties and damage caused by natural disasters. But they did not include any numerical targets or ways to hold signatories accountable.

Conference organizers say they are happy with what was accomplished in Kobe.

Delegates endorsed a 10-year framework for action, which calls on nations to share weather forecasts, design disaster-response strategies for local communities and set aside funds for post-disaster clean-up and relief work.

U.N. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland told reporters that last month's deadly tsunami in the Indian Ocean was a wake-up call to focus on disaster mitigation.

"Now I think every head of state knows, and the general public knows after the tsunami, that there is no other way than to do disaster risk reduction through a comprehensive framework of action," he said. "And I believe sincerely we have that in the outcome documents of the Kobe conference."

But not everyone was so upbeat. Many disaster researchers and officials from private organizations who attended the conference as observers but could not vote on the plan, said they were disappointed with the results.

"What we had hoped is that there would be some clear statement in this document that gives the commitment that by, say, 10 years or 20 years from now there's really a substantial reduction in disaster loss, like from now a 50 percent reduction in loss of life and people affected and the damage done by disasters as a proportion of GDP," said Thea Hilhorst, a senior lecturer in disaster studies at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Many private agencies and some delegates, including those from Europe, pushed the conference to acknowledge a clear link between natural disasters and climate change. Some countries, including the United States and oil producers, were accused of trying to minimize the significance of global warming in the plan.

A compromise was reached during final negotiations and some vague references to climate change were included.

U.S. delegates had earlier said they did not want the conference to be distracted by political disputes, a reference to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas levels. The European Union supports the 1997 pact, which the United States has rejected.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.
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