Natural hazards don’t always spell disaster: UN risk reduction chief

© UNICEF/Arimacs Wilander On 24 December 2018 in Indonesia, residents search through rubble to salvage any possessions from their home that was damaged during the tsunami. They are also trying to find family members who have been missing since the tsunami struck.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


Tsunamis are rare, but when they strike, they are the deadliest and most costly of natural hazards. With half of the world’s population expected to live in coastal areas more prone to tsunamis by 2030, investing in early warning systems and resilient infrastructure, will be vital to saving lives and economies, said the top UN official on disaster risks on Tuesday.

Mami Mizutori, UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), laid out the benefit-cost ratio of building cities that will withstand increasingly frequent climate-related hazards, marking “World Tsunami Awareness Day”, designated by the UN General Assembly in 2015.

Ms.  Mizutori told UN News in an interview, the for every dollar invested in prevention, most countries will reap four times the economic benefit, thus, “if we know how to make a society resilient, a hazard doesn’t necessarily have to become a disaster.”

In the last century, Tsunamis have claimed more than a quarter of a million lives, killing on average, around 4,600 per event, over the course of  58 recorded instances, according to UN figures.

Nearly 15 years on from the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, which killed nearly 230,000 people in 14 countries, the technology of early warning systems across the world’s oceans has improved, and as a result, many lives have been saved, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the Day.

However, “the risks remain immense” he added, and “it is clear from the growing economic losses over the last 20 years, that we have not yet fully learned the importance of disaster-proofing critical infrastructure.”

Rising sea levels caused by the climate emergency may further exacerbate the destructive power of tsunamis, he said, coinciding with 680 million people living in low-lying coastal zones.

Build to last

A September report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) spotlighting global temperature increases, changes to the world’s water supply, and the overall scale of the climate emergency, revealed that extreme sea-level events are expected to hit once a year by 2050.

“Can you think of one single country which is not really experiencing any disasters?” Ms.  Mizutori asked, speaking to UN News.  

With more people living in coastal areas, it will be increasingly important to be able to predict disasters before they strike, and when it comes to the havoc wreaked by tsunamis, seismographic and sea-level monitoring stations and strategic city building will be key to resisting the effects of a changing climate, she said.

Knowing the signs of a looming tsunami has historically, been lifesaving. World Tsunami Awareness Day was the brainchild of Japan, which through bitter, repeated experience with tsunamis over the years, has built up expertise in early warning, and building cities to last.

“Tsunamis” meaning “harbour waves” in Japanese, can’t be predicted, and often come with little warning, but earthquake and ocean activity observation can help those in danger buy time.

During the 1854 Ansei earthquake in Japan, a farmer noticed a receding tide – one key sign of a looming tsunami. To warn villagers, he set fire to his entire rice harvest, and the people fled to safety on high ground. The earthquake foreshadowed a great tsunami which overtook present day Hirokawa Town, but the farmer’s actions spared hundreds of lives.

On the day for tsunami awareness, the world honours that Japanese story of “Inamura-no-hi”, or “burning of the rice sheaves”, and aims to promote the sharing of innovative approaches to tsunami risk reduction.

To mitigate disaster risks, UNDRR put forth a 15-year framework outlining seven clear targets to achieve substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, known as the Sendai Framework, adopted in Sendai, Japan, in 2015.

In 2019, the Day promotes the Framework’s target to reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, including hospitals and schools.

Around 90 per cent of disaster-related funding goes towards reconstruction and damage response, with only 10 per cent to prevention, Ms.  Mizutori said, “We have to find a way to change this 10-to-90 equation, it should be 90-10.”

By 2040, $90 trillion will have been invested in protecting and building global infrastructure. To help ensure future cities are not overpowered by tsunami waves, “build where you should, don’t build where you shouldn’t. When you build, build to last, with measure for resilience”, Ms.  Mizutori stressed.

In addition, ensuring people have access to early warning education will spare lives, while hazards inevitably “continue to attack”, she said.

The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDEP) implementation of tsunami drills in the Asia-Pacific region is one such example of disaster risk communication and prevention.

The initiative has so far involved 61,000 students, and 115 schools near the earthquake-prone “Pacific Ring of Fire”, home to more than 70 per cent of all tsunamis ever recorded.

Speaking at a commemorative event for the Day at UN Headquarters in New York, President of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande,  explained that “over the past two decades, more than one quarter of a million people have lost their lives as a result of tsunamis. Today, we commemorate World Tsunami Awareness Day to remember these dear departed souls.

“To ensure that their loss was not in vain, today’s event serves as a call to action. I urge all Member States to adopt and implement disaster risk reduction strategies in order to safeguard future generations”, he added. ” I am confident that by striving together, we will succeed in delivering for all.”                   

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

6 ways to drive funding to transform the fashion industry

These European countries produce the most plastic waste per person

The vicious cycle of poverty and exclusion spreads fast engulfing more children

New Mozambique storm rips off roofs, brings lashing rain as aid response kicks in

We finally have a life-saving vaccine for Ebola

COVID-19: EU must step up efforts to tackle medicine shortages

5 myths about face masks under the microscope

These German businesses are hiring refugees to plug the skills gap

Getting people with disabilities into work requires data

Myanmar willing to repatriate ‘verified returnees’ from Bangladesh

Fighting Terrorism Online: EU Internet Forum committed to an EU-wide Crisis Protocol

Mass-graves found of at least 535 killed during ‘organized and planned’ inter-communal attacks in western DR Congo

Three-quarters of South Sudanese children have known nothing but war, says UNICEF

Germany is the world’s most innovative economy

EU prepares a banking union amidst financial ruins

Water scarcity is a growing problem across the Middle East. Is this how we solve it?

Τhe EU Refugee Crisis: a day in the life of a Refugee in Greece

Businesses are lacking moral leadership, according to employees

Ebola situation worsening in DR Congo, amidst growing ‘funding gap’ UN health agency warns

‘Eden bonds’: how rewilding could save the climate and your pension

What is true and not true about the new Coronavirus?

Refund for cancelled travel during the pandemic: Commission decides to refer SLOVAKIA to the Court of Justice

“China is the only BRICS country to have either met or possibly slightly surpassed my expectations”, BRICS inventor Jim O’ Neil from Switzerland; the Sting reports live from World Economic Forum 2015 in Davos

A fundamental transport transformation: Commission presents its plan for green, smart and affordable mobility

Commission welcomes entry into force of EU4Health programme

A Californian city gave people $500 a month – no strings attached. Here’s what happened

Unemployment and exclusion brings EU cities to boiling point

Europe is progressing most towards these UN Sustainability Goals: A report card for Europe

The EU’s outermost regions: strengthened partnership bears fruit

This is how smart technology is helping to combat overfishing

Council’s position on Visa Directive a step back for young people’s mobility

Judges urge Security Council to serve interests of all UN Member States

Questions directors need to ask in the age of stakeholder capitalism

How can emerging economies navigate the mobility transition?

UN food agency begins ‘last resort’ partial withdrawal of aid to opposition-held Yemeni capital

UN expert calls for international investigation into ‘evident murder’ of Jamal Khashoggi

Financial system risk is elevated and global standards are essential in managing cross-border infrastructure investment

Human rights breaches in Azerbaijan and Sudan

Actions not words: what was promised at the UN’s landmark climate summit?

These are the countries that eat the most meat

Draghi: A bridge from Brussels to Berlin

EU elections update: Can the EU voters vote unaffected from fake news and online disinformation?

How smarter machines can make us smarter humans

Coronavirus: new procedure to facilitate and speed up approval of adapted vaccines against COVID-19 variants

The Czech economy is thriving but boosting skills and productivity and transitioning to a low-carbon productive model is vital to sustainable and inclusive growth

At global health forum, UN officials call for strong, people-focused health systems

The West cannot ignore Russia; dazed Germany sitting on the fence

UN forum to bring ‘big space data’ benefits to disaster response in Africa

Q and A on the draft digital copyright directive

This is the human impact of COVID-19 – and how business can help

The UN went to one of the world’s richest countries to look at poverty – this is what it found

What can we do about the crisis in trust in public institutions?

Berlin Calling: DCX Expo on track to grow, in association with The European Sting

Policymakers can ensure the 4IR is fairer than the last three

104 countries have laws that prevent women from working in some jobs

MEPs call on EU countries to end precarious employment practices

Sweden has a plan to end all traffic accident deaths

4 solutions for reducing emissions from industrial clusters

From Prince to Picasso, the arts can be just the tonic, new UN health agency study shows

Indonesian tsunami death toll climbs over 400 as Government-led relief efforts are stepped up

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s