World 'dangerously unprepared' for future disasters

A tsunami survivor in Ishimaki city Japan says it may cost $309bn to rebuild areas damaged by the tsunami in March

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Some countries' failure to pay into a UN disaster relief fund is leaving the world "dangerously unprepared" for future crises, Andrew Mitchell says.

The international development secretary said several countries had not donated to the Central Emergency Response Fund, aimed at speeding-up relief delivery.

Britain has increased its pledge for 2012 from £40m to £60m but the fund is expected to be £45m short next year.

The international community must "wake up" to the challenge, Mr Mitchell said.

The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) was set up in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December 2004. It includes a grant element based on voluntary contributions from governments and private sector organisations and individuals.

The fund was designed by the United Nations to speed up relief in crisis zones with one central fund, though many countries still choose to give bilaterally.

ActionAid spokeswoman Jane Moyo told BBC Breakfast: "The importance of this fund is that it pre-positions money where it is most needed and it is important that people - other governments - pull their weight because then we can help people who are most in need, in their time of most need."

Start Quote

Spend to save is a good rule in international development”

End Quote Alan Duncan International Development Minister
'Basic humanitarian decency'

The fund has been hit hard by a series of natural disasters this year - the tsunami in Japan; an earthquake in New Zealand; famine in the Horn of Africa; and floods in Pakistan and the Philippines.

Mr Mitchell said the increasing numbers of people living in low-lying or famine-prone areas meant the scale of future tragedies would be greater.

He said many countries wait for events to happen before offering money but he said this could affect critical emergency response work.

He said in the first few hours of a disaster, when survivors are trapped in the rubble of an earthquake, delays and lack of resources could mean the difference between life and death.

"This year the world has been rocked by devastating disasters and the evidence suggests this trend is likely to continue.

"The past shows that international responses could have been more effective if they had been properly planned and coordinated as part of one single system instead of a patch-quilt approach we see all too often."

Mr Mitchell said: "The system is in place but too many countries and agencies are failing to back it, leaving the world dangerously unprepared for the scale and number of shocks that lie ahead.

Selected CERF donors in 2011

  • UK - $94m (£60m)
  • Sweden - $74m
  • Norway - $68m
  • Netherlands - $54m
  • Canada - $41m
  • Spain - $20m
  • Germany - $16m
  • Australia - $14m
  • US - $6m
  • Japan - $3m
  • France - $720,000
  • China - $500,000
  • Source: UN CERF website

"The international community must wake up to this challenge and unite its efforts under one umbrella," he added.

International Development Minister Alan Duncan told Breakfast that while many countries were facing financial difficulties, it made sense to donate emergency aid in advance and was "basic humanitarian decency".

"If you actually put money into a fund in advance of what are going to be more predictable emergencies around the world such as floods and earthquakes you can actually save a lot of lives by being able to respond very quickly as a result."

Mr Duncan said being prepared could also save a lot of of money "so spend to save is a good rule in international development".

Mr Duncan refused to name to the countries the government believed were not pulling their weight. But he said there were "one or two European ones" and countries from both east and west.

CERF's stated objectives are to:

  • promote early action and response to reduce loss of life;
  • enhance response to time-critical requirements;
  • strengthen core elements of humanitarian response in underfunded crises

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  • rate this

    Comment number 519.

    Just a couple of facts for those who feel the £60m is affecting the NHS and Education etc... This year, the spend on healthcare in the UK was £121.2 billion and £33.2bn on education. Defence costs £45.6bn. I could go on, but in relation to these figures, £60m is rather small, albeit a substantial amount to those of us with only 5 figure incomes or less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    I am amazed at the criticism of the Japanese who last year suffered a catastrophe few other nations will ever have experienced. What was so apparent when it happened , was that unlike a lot of other countries who have disaster visit, the Japanese did not sit in the shade waiting for someone else to help them out . Industrious nation that they are , they got on with the job of caring for their own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    I don't have a problem with central funds for disasters - but I note that we seem to pay in the most despite being a tiny little island that never claims anything back.

    Why are we always so generous in helping others - while we let our own children go homeless, pensioners freeze and people die on hospital waiting lists through lack of funds.

    Is it really so wrong to care for our own people too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    This is ridiculous - why are we the ones giving the most? We're a tiny country with little chance of being affected by the kind of disasters the fund was intended to help with. Countries far more likely to need help one day are giving nothing, but we go on pouring money into the bowl as though there aren't any problems at home!

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    Sad to see some miserable people on here moaning that we should be keeping the money just for ourselves.

    Maybe some of these should actually travel to areas hit by huge disasters, should go and find out what REAL poverty is before they open their mouths.


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