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UN says Preparation Can Lessen Impacts From Natural Disasters

The observance of the International Day for Disaster Reduction takes place in a year that has been overwhelmed by natural disasters that have taken a heavy toll in lives and property. The United Nations says natural hazards cannot be prevented, but their impacts can be lessened with careful preparation. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

This year's International Day for Disaster Reduction falls on the third anniversary of the massive 2005 South Asian Earthquake in Pakistan.

The director of the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, Sálvano Briceño, says more than 229,000 people have been killed by natural disasters and more than 130 million affected this year.

"To give you an idea, the six months of this year have already claimed more victims than the tsunami in 2004," said Sálvano Briceño. "Only in six months. Two major events, of course, have been the main causes for this. First, the cyclone in Myanmar, Nargis, and the earthquake in Sichuan [China]. But, this is what is now becoming more frequent."

Briceño says the severe hurricane season in the Caribbean and huge floods in India have added to the toll. He says events such as this are becoming more frequent. And, climate change is expected to make things worse.

Scientists predict climate change will increase the risks of droughts, floods and storms. They say the threats posed by climate change will particularly affect the world's poor.

Briceño says this year's International Day highlights the new World Disaster Reduction Campaign, which runs through 2009. The campaign focuses on making hospitals and health facilities safe from disaster.

"By protecting hospitals and making them safer, the number of victims in any disaster can be reduced because many times victims are caused by lack of health attention because of the destruction of the hospitals or the public health facilities more than by the hazard itself," he said. "It has been the case in major disasters recently."

Briceño says it only costs about four percent more to build a safe hospital than an unsafe one. He says that tiny investment can mean the difference between life and death, or between a chronically unhealthy community and one that develops in a sustainable fashion.