[Dateline: New York, Bangkok | Author: ISDR]
Today, 8 October marks the International Day for Disaster Reduction, which this year falls on the third anniversary of the massive 2005 South Asian Earthquake that devastated a whole region of Pakistan. In light of the similarly devastating events this year – Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the Wenchuan Earthquake in China – the UN's disaster reduction secretariat, UNISDR, is calling on partners, nations and communities around the world to work on reducing disaster vulnerability.
The focus on this International Day is on making health facilities safe from disaster. "We need to mobilize society at every level to reduce risk and protect health facilities," Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon said, in a statement to mark the day.
This is part of a joint UNISDR and WHO 2008-2009 effort to promote the World Disaster Reduction Campaign: Hospitals Safe from Disasters. "From a human perspective, all disasters are a health issue, and damage to health systems affects nations as a whole and every part of society," UNISDR Director Sálvano Briceño said in his message for the International Day. "A disaster-safe hospital is part of a disaster-safe community."
"We must build health centres and systems to withstand natural hazards and major emergencies," says WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan. "If we don't, lives will be lost needlessly - both when hazards strike and in their aftermath."
A new campaign web site is being launched today at www.safehospitals.info, featuring information on how to participate, events taking place around the world, and useful material, such as details about the Hospital Safety Index – a tool for assessing how safe hospitals are from natural hazards.
The global observance of the International Day this year is taking place on Wednesday, 8 October in New York, where Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes and the Permanent Mission of Pakistan are inviting national representatives to attend a panel discussion on 'Saving Lives: Hospitals and Schools Safe from Disasters.'
Disaster reduction is about making sure natural hazards have as little destructive impact as possible on lives, livelihoods and development. We cannot prevent natural hazards from occurring, but their impact depends on the extent of human vulnerability to such events. The way that we build, organize and manage our communities and environment can make the difference between a disaster and just a major natural event.
Just after the Indian Ocean Tsunami, 168 governments adopted a strong set of disaster risk reduction commitments called the Hyogo Framework for Action. However, the Secretary-General in his International Day message has warned that "we must do more to turn commitments on paper into deeds that can keep the next major disaster from taking so many lives and destroying so many livelihoods." He stressed the need to incorporate disaster risk reduction as a key plank of work towards the Millennium Development Goals, especially in light of the increasing effects of climate change in this area.
In Bangkok to mark the Day, which is also the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Day for Disaster Management, UNISDR and ASEAN organized two main events to raise awareness of the importance of safer communities against disasters in the Asia-Pacific region.
The ASEAN awarded a prize to three winners of a regional drawing competition. Children from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam were invited to draw or paint a disaster resilient hospital, school or house which could contribute to make their communities better protected against disasters. Members of the press had opportunities to view the submitted drawings in an exhibition and to interview a group of schoolchildren at the award ceremony.
On the same occasion, members of the press were also invited to attend a panel discussion on hospital and school safety. The panel discussion opened with messages from the Secretary-General and the ASEAN Secretary-General, Surin Pitsuwan and was followed by short presentations made by representatives from the ASEAN, WHO and Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC).