27th International Conference
of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

Disasters have no limits

While laws can be made to regulate the conduct of human beings in war, the same cannot be said for the natural phenomena that trigger many disasters. Where, when and how they strike is dependent on many factors that are usually outside immediate human control. The damage and suffering they cause are, however, very much in our control.

Hurican Mitch survivor, Nicaragua - picture: preparing for the inevitable in Dominican Republic

In 1998 alone, natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, drought, earthquakes and landslides wrought havoc in 121 countries, left some 60,000 dead and affected some 126 million people, not to mention the economic cost, which ran into billions of dollars.* All the evidence suggests that these numbers will rise inexorably, if action is not taken now to address some of the root causes and to put in place local, national and international mechanisms to prevent naturally occurring phenomena from reaching cataclysmic proportions.

Just waiting to happen

The rapid, uncontrolled growth of the world's major cities has put many more people at risk in the event of a disaster in an urban environment. People living in high-rise concrete buildings are especially vulnerable, as was tragically demonstrated by the Armenian earthquake in 1988 in which 100,000 died. Rich, developed nations are not immune either: some 6,000 people died in the earthquake that shook the Japanese city of Kobe in 1995.

The most serious crises occur, however, in the thousands of small cities and shanty towns across the world. Although hurricanes are a frequent occurrence on the southern and eastern coasts of the United States, they rarely claim many lives. But when Hurricane Mitch battered Central America, Nicaragua and Honduras had fewer resources to warn or protect or rescue their people. The toll of dead, injured and homeless was correspondingly high. The devastation caused by the central European floods in 1997 also shows how a weakened infrastructure in countries in economic transition seriously undermines their ability to withstand disaster.

* source: World Disasters Report 1999, International Federartion

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© 1999 | French (homepage) |
Background

A formidable challenge

Putting ideas into practice

A conference with a difference

Even wars have limits

No good or bad victims

Weapons: the humanitarian perspective

Disasters have no limits

Fine tuning the response

The worldwide health crisis

A role to develop

Shared principles