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UN Urges Action on Disaster Risk Reduction

The United Nations is urging countries to put measures in place to reduce and mitigate the worst effects from an increasing number of natural disasters. The UN says preparations must be made now to help nations adapt to the dangers of climate change and to prevent people from being killed by natural disasters.

The United Nations reports every year, droughts, floods, cyclones, wild fires, and other hazards affect more than 200 million people. It says the impact from these natural disasters is increasing as populations grow, environments degrade and global warming accelerates.

In 2005, the United Nations adopted a plan called the Hyogo Framework for Action. It aims to help nations and communities reduce their vulnerability to natural disasters. This can be done in a variety of ways. They include building stronger structures, enhancing early warning systems and strengthening disaster preparedness.

The plan is to achieve its goals by 2015. And to push this along, the U.N. Secretary General has appointed Margareta Wahlstrom as Assistant Secretary-General for Disaster Reduction.

She tells VOA it is particularly important to face the looming reality of climate change now. She says governments must implement measures to reduce carbon emissions and agree on ways to support poorer nations who need help in adapting to climate change.

"If we cannot get things right this year, we lose extremely valuable time," said Margareta Wahlstrom. "And, it is precious. The damage that is being done now on our environment is irreversible. It is very hard to sink in. It is easy to wake people up by making dramatic statements. But, I think the most important job we have to do is to keep them awake. It is to remain attentive to what are the key benchmarks that we need to really take seriously."

Wahlstrom warns a good proportion of the sustainable basis for our societies will be lost if the world does not work to undo the damage, which already has been done to the earth's climate.

Contrary to the view of many, she believes this moment of financial crisis offers an opportunity to both help the economy and reduce the risk of climate change. She is a strong supporter of creating so-called green jobs.

She says far-sighted countries can use these two crises for their benefit. She says exploring alternative energy sources will create new jobs while, at the same time, help to build a more sustainable environment.