UN agencies warn greater efforts needed to protect hospitals schools from disasters

18 June 2009Disaster risk reduction measures must be strengthened to increase the resilience of hospitals and schools, according to a joint call issued today by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Disaster risk reduction measures must be strengthened to increase the resilience of hospitals and schools, according to a joint call issued today by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)and the World Health Organization (WHO).According to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) some 236,000 people lost their lives last year in 300 disasters, while damages exceeded $180 billion.Last year’s devastating earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province claimed 88,000 lives and also damaged or destroyed 11,000 hospitals. It also damaged more than 12,000 schools – 40 per cent of all schools in the area – which resulted in thousands of children being killed or injured.UNICEF and WHO noted that some 175,000 children are affected by disasters every year, placing them among those most at risk, and jeopardizing their education.“The school must be a safe place that protects children and defends their right to education,” said Louis-Georges Arsenault, Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes for UNICEF. “The integration of disaster risk reduction into the school curriculum equips children with knowledge of the risks, and what actions can be taken to mitigate the risks,” he added, stressing the importance of education in curbing disaster risk. “Not only is it a child’s right, but education also protects lives and safeguard development gains.” In spite of efforts to rebuild following a disaster, it is impossible to replace lost lives and restore the health of people completely, the two agencies pointed out.“The destruction and carnage inflicted on hospitals, schools, and the people who use them are senseless losses that could have been prevented in many cases,” said Eric Laroche, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Action in Crises. “Such tragedies can be avoided or reduced if governments adopt disaster risk reduction strategies aimed at protecting people’s health,” he said, calling for building codes to be enforced and implemented and staff to be prepared for emergencies.UNICEF and WHO highlighted the need to strengthen measures in four key areas: building school and health infrastructure adhering to disaster resilience standards; assessing the safety of school and hospital buildings; ensuring the emergency preparedness of staff; and educating and involving communities in disaster risk reduction.Earlier this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon challenged representatives from over 150 governments at a UN-backed Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction to halve the number of lives lost due to disasters by 2015.“Risks are growing, especially in poor countries,” noted the Secretary-General in a video message to the 1,500 participants at the Geneva gathering. “In many parts of the world, we are losing ground. Moreover, it is clear that climate change is making things worse.”In addition to reducing the loss of life from disasters by half by 2015, he also challenged nations to work to significantly reduce economic losses resulting from earthquakes, floods, storms, landslides and other destructive events. Also speaking at the event, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said “the time is long overdue to move disaster risk reduction to the centre of the development agenda.”

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