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UN Calls For Action to Reduce Climate-Related Risks

United Nations Disaster Reduction officials say the effects of climate change are having a dangerous impact now and governments must urgently take action to protect their communities from floods and other hazards provoked by extreme weather. They say steps must be taken to reduce current risks and to prepare for a worsening future under a changed climate. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

In recent months, millions of people around the world have have lost their homes and livelihoods. Many have lost their lives from weather-related disasters such as storms, floods, droughts, and heat waves. About 30 million people in South Asia currently are suffering the consequences of some of the worst flooding in memory.

Senior official at the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, Reid Basher, says the situation will worsen with climate change. He warns that extreme weather will occur with greater frequency and intensity around the world.

"We have to act now. We have to put into place these things we know about," said Basher. "It is not rocket science. It is plain, simple stuff about building stronger houses, putting in warning systems, educating the public."

"So, that we are not flat-footed when these events come and with climate change, we expect there will be more of these events. It is very clear the current floods, for example, in the United Kingdom are record rainfalls. O.K. So, we cannot say this is due to climate change, but it sure is the type of thing that we will expect to see more of in the future," he continued.

U.N. disaster officials are urging governments to speed up implementation of the so-called Hyogo Framework for Action. The plan was endorsed in Kobe, Japan, by 168 governments shortly after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

Basher calls it a road map of concrete measures to help countries become more resilient against natural disasters, thereby reducing the risks. He says a number of countries such as Nepal and India have taken important steps in that direction, with good results.

"China is another really good example," said Basher. "In 1959, there was a flood or flooding that caused a loss of two million lives. Now, every year, they have the same sorts of floods, possibly even worse."

"But, the numbers killed are only in the order of say 500 a year. So, I think you can see that the modest investments in early warning systems, evacuation systems, public education, better building standards, these pay off and clearly in the China case, pay off very handsomely," he added.

The United Nations says floods accounted for 84 percent of all disaster deaths between 2000 and 2005 and amounted to 65 percent of all disaster losses. Between 1992 and 2001, it says losses caused by flooding came to $466 billion.

U.N. disaster officials say it will take hundreds of years to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say are causing climate change.