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27 December 2011

World 'dangerously unprepared' for future disasters

Image: Japan says it may cost $309bn to rebuild areas damaged by the tsunami in March

The world is "dangerously unprepared" for future disasters because rich nations are not doing enough, warns the international development secretary.

Andrew Mitchell blames the failure of several countries to pay into the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

The UK government has pledged £20m to the fund - in addition to £40m already promised - but an estimated £45m shortfall is still expected next year.

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

The fund, set up by the UN, has been hit hard by a wave 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.

The CREF was set up in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami on Boxing Day 2004.

Mr Mitchell 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 can 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.

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