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[Zhang Monan] Global response to natural disasters

The devastation caused by the disastrous 9.0-magnitude earthquake in Japan and the potential risks from radiation leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant once again highlight the urgent need to establish a global disaster emergency relief mechanism.

The frequent incidence of natural disasters worldwide, with many engendered by greenhouse gas emissions, environmental deterioration and ecological retrogression, as the result of the increased use of carbon-intensive energy, has heightened people’s awareness of the impact of climate change and environmental degradation on the global economy and security.

According to a report released by the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in January 2010, a total of 3,852 major natural disasters occurred worldwide from 2000 to 2009, resulting in more than 780,000 deaths and direct economic losses of $960 billion. Asian countries were the hardest hit.

The impact of both geological and climate calamities always go far beyond the directly affected regions. The epicenter of the latest earthquake was located near the east coast of Honshu, Japan’s pivotal industrial belt where its iron, petroleum, manufacturing and nuclear industries are located and is thus expected to have enormous repercussions on the world’s third largest economy. As a major world exporter, Japan’s slowed production and exports of iron, metal materials as well as auto engines and some key industrial products will affect the nascent global economic recovery.

In the face of the common threats posed by climate change, shortages of resources and the frequent financial, energy and food crises, no individual nation, no matter how developed or powerful, can remain immune. That makes it essential to establish a global emergency and relief system to increase the world’s capability to tackle natural disasters.

Currently, a number of international organizations and programs deal with issues related to natural disasters, such as the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the World Meteorological Organization, the International Tsunami Society and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Despite their important role in disaster relief efforts, there are some outstanding problems that need resolving, such as the need for better coordination and distribution of resources, and how to mobilize global efforts to tackle a natural disaster in an individual nation or region.

To help overcome these problems, a global disaster emergency and relief agency should be established. As a move to this end, the U.N. can establish a global disaster emergency center in charge of policy and coordination among world members to alleviate the threats of major natural disasters.

Another option is that the world’s current disaster relief resources be merged to realize information sharing among all countries so that the negative effects of any natural disasters can be reduced to a minimum.

The establishment of a global disaster surveillance and warning system is the key to improving the capability of individual nations in disaster prevention and risk control. Compared with developing countries, the developed countries enjoy more mature and advanced management expertise in this regard.

The establishment of such a global surveillance and warning system would help realize the sharing of resources and information worldwide and boost the disaster warning capability of developing nations.

For example, the responsibilities of countries, regions and international organizations should be explicitly defined in case of natural disasters so as to improve the efficiency of disaster mitigation efforts.

A joint relief mechanism should also be set up under the framework of the U.N., and all member states should sign an accord that will bind them to offer specific assistance in the event of a natural disaster. International emergency drills should also be regularly organized to improve the disaster-relief capabilities of individual nations and international organizations.

Education on disaster prevention and relief should also be popularized among high-risk countries and regions to improve local people’s awareness of what to do in the event of a natural disaster.

An international relief foundation should also be established to ease the world’s current funding shortage. Currently, international funds for such purposes mainly depend on government and non-government donations on a voluntary basis, which often means limited funds that fail to meet the demands of worldwide relief work.

In view of this, a long-term and effective funding mechanism, such as the establishment of a global natural disaster insurance system, is desperately needed to resolve the funding shortage in global relief work.

By Zhang Monan

Zhang Monan is an economics researcher with the State Information Center of China. ― Ed.

(China Daily/Asia News Network)
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