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Invest today for a better tomorrow: Reducing risks before a disaster strikes

“Invest today for a better tomorrow” was the title of the first UN General Assembly debate on Disaster Risk Reduction, which took place today in New York. What is it, you might ask? Disaster Risk Reduction is a set of actions or processes proactively taken before a disaster strikes to protect the poorest and most vulnerable people.

2010 was a devastating year in terms of disasters. The lives of over 200 million were affected by earthquakes, floods and cyclones and nearly 300,000 people lost their lives as a result. The costs of these events are also staggering — in 2010 the costs reached $110 billion.

For the poorest countries, the costs can be overwhelming as they struggle to support their people and their country to recover. Disasters can also undermine and reverse progress on achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

“Barely a day went by without lives devastated, homes demolished, people displaced, and carefully cultivated hopes destroyed,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his opening address. “It was one of the deadliest years in more than a generation.”

Ban Ki-moon then highlighted the risks facing children, “Children are among the most vulnerable,” he said. “Thousands died last year as earthquake, flood or hurricane reduced their schools to rubble. These deaths could have been prevented.”

We’re not powerless in the face of disasters

This is a critical point – lives can be saved and we’re not powerless in the face of disasters.

Simple actions can save lives

Simple actions such as implementing strict building codes so hospitals and schools don’t collapse during an earthquake or ensuring an early warning system is in place that gives people plenty of time to evacuate to a safe place when a cyclone is coming. Save the Children’s experience shows that when children themselves are engaged and taught about disasters, the impacts are substantial.

During the day, we hosted an event with World Vision, UNICEF and UNDP sharing our experience of what works in disaster risk reduction. We were also joined by Arnell, a 17-year-old activist from the Philippines who shared his experience of working on disaster risk reduction in his own community. A representative from the Government of Philippines shared his experience of getting a Disaster Risk Reduction law passed in his country. Even though the law is there, he said, this now needs to be followed up with action at the local level to ensure people in the most vulnerable communities are protected and ready before a disaster.

Reducing disaster risk across the world

The debate today represents a critical step in building momentum towards the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, which is due to be held in May 2011. This is where governments, civil society and the private sector will meet to discuss progress on reducing disaster risk across the world.

What today has shown is that while momentum is building, more urgently needs to be done. No-one can argue with the fact that when it comes to disasters, prevention is cheaper than cure. However this doesn’t always follow with sufficient funds to implement the level of disaster risk reduction programmes required to protect the poorest and most vulnerable children.

It was great to see DRR receive this level of attention in the United Nations. Save the Children will be continuing to push for greater progress throughout 2011.

More than 60 million children are caught up in emergencies every year. Find out more about where we’re responding.

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