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Tsunami, Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Volcanic Eruptions and other Natural and Man-Made Hazards and Disasters


HAZARDS 98 - An Opportunity and A Challenge for Disaster Mitigation in the New Millennium

George Pararas-Carayannis

(Excerpts from a videotaped presentation given at a Plenary Session of the 7th International Conference on Natural and Man-Made Hazards (HAZARDS 98) May 17-22, 1998, Chania, Crete, Greece)


This Seventh International Conference (HAZARDS 98), presents a unique opportunity and a challenge for participants to contribute significantly to plans of action and national and international policies for measures which will reduce the adverse impact of Natural and Man-Made Hazards in the new millennium. The conference's timing, near the close of the Century and near the end of the International Decade on Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), presents the challenge of evaluating progress made during the Decade, identifying remaining needs, and making appropriate recommendations to national and international organizations for the implementation of plans for future action beginning with the year 2,000. This paper summarizes the role of the International Hazards Society, outlines the significant impact the present Conference can have on future Disaster Mitigation efforts, and recommends the drafting of a Resolution.

Introduction and Historical Perspective

A brief review of the historical perspective of previous hazards conferences illustrates their significance and influence in the formation of past IDNDR initiatives and helps emphasize why the present conference presents new opportunities and challenges for future international disaster mitigation efforts.

Hazards 98, is the latest in a series of biennial symposia, sponsored or co-sponsored by the International Hazards Society. The first of the Hazards conferences was held in 1982, in Honolulu, Hawaii under the auspices of the Tsunami Society. The second one, co-sponsored by the Tsunami Society, was held in August 1986 at the University of Quebec, in Rimouski, Canada. The third Conference took place, in August 1988, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and in Ensenada, Mexico. The Fourth Conference was held in August 1991, in Perugia, Italy.

A Hazards Society, and the role that such a professional society could play in the mitigation of the effects of natural hazards was conceived back in the early 1980's, following the 1982 conference we organized in Hawaii and long before IDNDR was conceptualized or implemented. However, the idea for a Hazards Society did not materialize into anything concrete until 1986, when the conference in Rimouski was held. At that conference, these early ideas culminated into a concrete plan of action. We agreed to organize the Society and to co-sponsor actively biannual professional meetings on Natural Hazards. Immediately thereafter, in 1986, the International Hazards Society was chartered and incorporated in Hawaii as a non-profit, professional organization.

The Hazards 88 Conference: With these commitments and goals, the next Hazards Conference was scheduled in Ensenada, Mexico in August, 1988, with an opening session at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in San Diego. As Chairman of the International Committee, I extended invitations to several international organizations and asked for co-sponsorship and for travel support of participating international scientists. Also, because of United Nations' interest in disaster reduction, I extended an invitation to the U.N. Secretary General to co-sponsor Hazards 88 and to give the opening address. The U.N. Deputy Secretary General responded to the invitation, attended Hazards 88, and indeed gave the opening address.

IDNDR and Significance of Hazards 88: The Hazards 88 conference was particularly significant for several reasons. A few months earlier, on 11 December 1987, by resolution 42/169, the U. N. General Assembly designated the 1990's as a Decade in which the International Community, under the auspices of the United Nations, would pay special attention to fostering international cooperation in the field of natural disaster reduction. Thus, the timing of our conference in Mexico was perfect, as it gave us the opportunity to endorse the U.N. resolution on the Decade, and to hold a plenary session on plans and proposals for its implementation.

In fact, the Hazards 88 Conference declared a resolution of its own and prepared a special report outlining the methodology on how the Decade could be implemented. Our resolution focused attention on the developing countries because it was the lesser-developed countries which experience losses in human lives and economy disproportionate to their resources.

Subsequent Developments in the Implementation of the IDNDR: In the years following the U.N. Resolutions on IDNDR and the Hazards 88 conference, numerous other important developments occurred. An intense and concerted international momentum in disaster mitigation began worldwide under the auspices of IDNDR, along lines recommended at Hazards 88 and based primarily on input provided by our Group. Also, following the Hazards 88 conference, many other scientific organizations begun forming special committees or commissions to coordinate implementation of the Decade.

IDNDR Begins: In 1990, the United Nations issued a final Resolution declaring the decade beginning with 1990 as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). As set forth by the resolution, the Decade focused its attention on earthquakes, windstorms , tsunami, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and insect infestations. Other developments were the establishment of the IDNDR Secretariat in Geneva.

The Hazards 91 Conference in Perugia, Italy, with an expanded theme for the mitigation of both Natural and Man-Made Disasters, particularly for developing countries, provided further impetus for international cooperation. We felt that man-made disasters posed a great threat for mankind and that it was appropriate for our Group to include them and to address problems in their mitigation.

Significance of the 7th International Conference on Natural and Man-Made Hazards

With this historical perspective and overview, the significance of the 7th International Conference on Natural and Man-Made Hazards (HAZARDS 98) cannot be overemphasized. The conference's timing, near the close of the Century and near the end of the International Decade on Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), presents a unique opportunity and a challenge for participants of HAZARDS 98 to contribute significantly to plans of action and national and international policies for measures which will reduce the adverse impact of Natural and Man-Made Hazards in the new millennium. It also presents the challenge of evaluating progress made during the Decade, identifying remaining needs, and making appropriate recommendations to national and international organizations for the implementation of future action. This is particularly important in view of the fact that, as the Decade comes to its end with the beginning of the new millennium, the threat of Natural and Man-Made Hazards impacts upon mankind with relentless severity and frequency.

In spite of IDNDR, in the last three years, both natural and man-made disasters have created havoc and destruction all over the planet. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. Man-Made disasters caused by chemical spills, wars and civil strife present now the greater dangers for mankind.

Increase in Severity of Natural Disasters: In spite of mitigation efforts, losses due to natural disasters will continue to increase because of our continuing population growth and the increase of the concentration of growth in vulnerable areas such as coastal regions, flood plains, and seismically active zones. The percentage of earthquakes causing 1 ,000 + fatalities has increased by 10% causing approximately 1.4 million deaths since 1910. In recent years, earthquakes have caused destruction and have claimed thousands of human lives in Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Japan, Turkey, and more recently, in Afghanistan.

Other Natural Disasters such as heavy rains, floods and flash floods, have affected the lives of thousands in Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Benin, China, Korea, Myanmar, Vietnam. Thailand, Philippines, Turkey, Costa Rica, Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala, Somalia, Ghana, Morroco, Togo and South Africa.

Hurricanes and typhoons in the Bahamas, Antigua, Barbados, Virgin islands, Puerto Rico, Phillipines, Vietnam, Madagascar and elsewhere have left thousands of people dead, injured or homeless. The threat of impending volcanic disasters in Montserrat and Nicaragua has forced the evacuation of thousands of people.

Man-Made Disasters are Taking a Heavier Toll: Man-made hazards have also taken a heavier toll in recent years. Continuous population growth, has disturbed the delicate balance between ecosystems on our planet. We have pollution of the atmosphere and of the seas, destruction of our rain forests, fires burning out of control, alterations of sensitive ecosystems, destruction of the ozone layer, climatic changes we do not fully comprehend.

Man-made disasters such as chemical spills have polluted rivers and watersheds in Rwanda, and Guyana. Similarly, In eastern Ukraine, Slovania and elsewhere, industrial wastes have heavily polluted the drinking water supply of more than two million people endangering their health.

Man-Made Disasters Associated with Industrial Accidents, Civil Strife and War Present the Greatest Danger for Humanity: Other Man-Made Disasters, calamities associated with civil strife and war, have killed more than 20 million people in 150 regional conflicts since 1945 alone. A research Group of the National Defense Council Foundation, a research group based in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.A., cited 70 armed conflicts in 1994, up from 62 in 1993. The trend is clear, armed conflicts and complex man-made disaster emergencies, are increasing in frequency and severity in various parts of the world.

In places like Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Zaire, Sudan Somalia, Liberia, Northern Iraq, Chechnya and former Yugoslavia, man-made disasters caused by wars and civil strife have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands in recent years. Land mines claim the life of an innocent person every twenty minutes, somewhere in the world.

Conclusions and Recommendations

HAZARDS 98 - An Opportunity and A Challenge: Major natural and man-made disasters result in complex humanitarian emergencies that seriously compromise socioeconomic development and are creating escalating demands on rapidly diminishing international resources.

As a result, and in spite of efforts such as those of IDNDR, more lives will be lost, more property will be destroyed. But this does not have to be so. Advances in the science and technology of hazard mitigation now provide some means to reduce significantly losses. But we, as scientists, have to commit ourselves to understanding these natural hazards better and to applying techniques that will reduce our vulnerability.

Obviously, neither this Group nor IDNDR can address or solve all of the complex problems caused by natural and man-made hazards. But within our limited means and resources we, as scientists, can affect some changes and improvements for the things that we have some control over.

We need to explore the feasibility of concerted scientific and engineering efforts in reducing the loss of life and property through programs of public education and of effective early warning systems. We can improve anti-seismic design, construction and we can retrofit critical structures in our countries, such as health care facilities and schools. There are things we can do to improve hurricane and tsunami early-warning systems and community-based response to all emergencies. Public educational efforts and rapid communication networks can be developed or improved for transmitting information on potential disaster risks and for warning purposes. Certain, man-made disasters, such as chemical spills or accidents, can be prevented with proper regulation and supervision of industries that cause them.

There is a need for research to identify better and more cost-effective preventive, disaster mitigation strategies. International efforts must continue and put equal emphasis on scientific programs, engineering capabilities, and in the national and international response to humanitarian and economic needs, particularly for the developing countries of the world.

Finally, although we may be unable to do much about the man-made hazards such as those associated with war and civil strife, we, as scientists and as citizens of this planet, we have the moral responsibility to raise the consciousness of our governments to prevent some of these disasters from happening. (i.g. the fires of the oil fields of Kuwait during the Gulf War) . Responsible government policies should be aimed at preventing or mitigating the consequences of armed conflicts on our environment and on civilian populations .

The Need for a Resolution: HAZARDS 98 presents both an opportunity and a challenge. The present symposium is very important in that it can focus attention on these problems and thus raise the consciousness of our governments and of international organizations to plans of action that will reduce human suffering from both Man-Made and Natural Disasters. Scientific societies, and individual scientists, in a group such as ours, can play an important role in developing responsible plans for continuous actions in all aspects of disaster mitigation for the new millennium. The HAZARDS 98 Conference, through its proceedings and through a Resolution can emphasize the needs, identify new initiatives, and secure the necessary commitments for the continuity of international efforts in disaster mitigation.

Although IDNDR will end, the efforts of the Decade must not stop. The International Decade has presented a unique opportunity for individual scientists in many countries to interact, cooperate, and create the framework which can facilitate the important contributions in mitigating the adverse effects of disasters. This international framework which has been created must continue to serve future scientific activities for the collective benefit of mankind.


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