Leading article: Natural disasters demand a radical new response

The world's system of dealing with earthquakes and floods is outdated

Related Topics

The number of natural disasters in the world has shot up over the past two decades. Scientists argue over the extent to which climate change is responsible for this phenomenon but no one can seriously deny such disasters are increasing in scale and frequency, nor that in tandem with a rapid rise in population and the growing concentration of people in cities, the number of people affected by disasters can also be expected to rise.

A gloomy thought, but one best tackled head on if the consequences are not to be gloomier still, which is why we should welcome the initiative launched today by the International Development minister, Gareth Thomas, on changing the way we respond to natural disasters.

Mr Thomas notes that we, primarily meaning wealthy Western nations, need to greatly increase the funds we make available to the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund, the Cerf, and at the same time chivvy our prosperous neighbours, some of whom are paying almost nothing, into making a more proportionate contribution. We can take pride in the fact that so far Britain has been the largest single contributor to the fund, although we should bear in mind that countries with populations a fraction of the size of ours, such as Holland, Norway and Sweden, are not very far behind. France, meanwhile, has given far less than its tiny neighbour Luxembourg, while America has given only slightly more than Belgium, though this lacklustre sum is due rise under the Obama administration.

The backdrop to Mr Thomas's call is a recent Oxfam report which warns that the world needs to prepare itself for an almost two-fold rise in the number of people likely to be severely affected at any one time by natural disasters, from about 250 million today to roughly 375 million in about five years' time.

Succumbing to compassion fatigue – as well to growing doubts in some people's minds about the whole argument on climate change – many will dismiss this as another apocalyptic scare story that won't come true. This would be a mistake. As Oxfam's report rightly noted, the term natural disaster is going to have to be broadened in future to encompass not only the kind of quakes, flood and droughts with which we are familiar but also inevitable conflicts between growing populations over declining resources.

The recent carnage in central Nigeria – ostensibly between Christians and Muslims but also a battle for access to land of declining quality – is a disturbing portent of a thousand conflicts to come over land and water. Our recent experience of disaster response and disaster management in Haiti, meanwhile, should serve to remind everyone that rapid action and preventive action undertaken by global bodies like the Emergency Response Fund costs far less in the long term than unco-ordinated and poorly targeted aid, or aid that trickles in late.

Mr Thomas is right to point out that while money is crucial, improved co-ordination of global responses to disasters is equally important, which is why a UN summit to agree on a framework for collective action on the future of humanitarian support would be a good idea.

It all sounds a tall order, and hard to sell to the public at a time of relative economic hardship. But it is worth pointing out that overhauling and radically increasing the capacity of bodies like Cerf to meet the scale of tomorrow's disasters will cost a fraction of the money that we have spent on bailing out banks, and will undoubtedly save millions of lives.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent