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28 Dec, 2004

Tsunami Update 4: Solutions Sought to Mitigate Impact of Natural Disasters

Over the next few months, the travel & tourism industry certainly will be looking for ways to mitigate the impact of earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Over the next few months, the travel & tourism industry certainly will be looking for ways to mitigate the impact of earthquakes and other natural disasters. Surprising though it may seem, U.N.-supported organisations like the Thailand-based Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre <www.apdc.net> have done a good deal of work, even in relation to tourism. This dispatch offers excerpts from the APDC website, including more information about earthquakes, a website link to the APDC’s tourism-related work, and website links to other global organizations also researching earthquakes. Checking out these sites will save us a lot of time and effort in trying to reinvent the wheel. Also a good place to source speakers and experts.



Congratulations on your tireless effort to get accurate information out. I hope all of your loved ones are well. All the best, Douglas D. Gollan, President and Editor-in-Chief, Elite Traveler, New York.



As the Asia-Pacific travel & tourism industry begins to look beyond this devastating tragedy, one of the institutions that is certain to figure prominently in the search for solutions is the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (APDC). Initially established as an outreach center of the Asian Institute of Technology, ADPC was registered as an independent international foundation based in Thailand in 1999. The Center is recognized as an important neutral focal point in the Asia-Pacific for promoting disaster awareness and the development of local capabilities to foster institutionalized disaster management and mitigation policies.

Over the years, it has done a good deal of work on helping regional countries mitigate the impact of natural disasters, including floods, typhoons and earthquakes. In September 2001, it devoted its entire newsletter to the linkage between tourism and natural disasters, including a list of “prerequisites and ingredients of effective planning towards producing a framework for analyzing and developing tourism disaster management strategies.”

The newsletter, Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3 April-September 2001, can be found at: http://www.adpc.net/infores/newsletter/2001/2.html. In addition to several articles on the subject, it includes a serious present pointers to a range of useful information sources.

The ADPC was established in 1986 by Colonel Brian Ward, a distinguished British army engineer, as the result of a joint feasibility study on the needs of Asian countries in strengthening their national disaster management systems. The study, jointly conducted by the United Nations Disaster Relief Organization and AIT, and funded by The United Nation Development Program (UNDP) and the World Meteorological Organization, identified training as “the greatest need of all” in the region.

The Center is governed by its international Board of Trustees whose Chairman is Prof. Dr. Krasae Chanawongse from Thailand and the Vice Chairman is the Honorable Corazon Alma G. De Leon, formerly Commissioner, Civil Service Commission and Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Republic of the Philippines. An international Advisory Council comprising disaster management experts from all over the world advises the Center on its programmatic direction.

ADPC programs demonstrate a wide diversity in application, address all types of disasters, and cover all aspects of the disaster management spectrum – from prevention and mitigation, through preparedness and response, to reconstruction and rehabilitation endeavors. ADPC’s work essentially revolves around the primary activities of training and education, provision of technical services, information, research and networking support, and regional program management.

Further information about the ADPC is available at its website: http://www.adpc.net/




By Aman Mehta

[Aman Mehta is an urban development specialist. Over the last eight years he has provided expertise on institutional development, indicators development, project design and appraisal and post-disaster damage assessment. This article is extracted from a paper written by the author on Earthquake Vulnerability Risk Mapping for the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center. He can be contacted at aman_mehta@yahoo.com]

The absence of any reliable mechanism to predict earthquakes makes them the most disastrous of all natural calamities. Earthquakes affected 19 million people in 2001, more than any other year of the decade and cost the world US$238 million in damages alone . Afghanistan, China, Iran, Indonesia, India, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines and Taiwan all lie within seismically active areas. Seismic risks to people and economic losses have been increasing due to the rapid pace of urbanization and increasingly dense city populations. Recent earthquakes in Iran, India, Taiwan and Turkey have yet again shown us how vulnerable urban areas are to the effects of earthquakes.

There are two basic structural measures for reducing vulnerability: enforcing seismic building codes and imposing land use restrictions to limit settlements in hazard prone areas. With the steady pace of economic growth in Asia and the influx of rural migrants and investment funds to cities, urban centers have seen an increase in construction that often does not comply with local building codes. The extraordinary number of existing noncompliant buildings poses a serious challenge to earthquake mitigation. Earthquake events seem to have only a short-term effect on people’s motivation to enforce building codes in new construction and a host of problems diverts the attention of municipal bodies, local planners and engineers from enforcing seismic code regulations. In addition to the technical and legal aspects, there are socio-economic and political factors to consider.

Disasters are unresolved problems of development. These problems stem from socio-economic, governance, demographic and physical environment issues that have to be understood and integrated into the process of reducing vulnerability to earthquakes.

Municipal bodies often lack the resources or technical capacity to implement building codes or scrutinize the technical aspects of building plans. The problem is acute in smaller cities and towns, where even if the people want to incorporate seismic features into their houses, there is little technical assistance available. The urban poor, who often live in the most hazard prone areas, find it financially impossible to relocate or improve their houses. Although recent earthquakes have put some pressure on governing bodies for more effective enforcement or introduction of seismic codes, measures are generally implemented only on new structures. Many municipalities lack appropriate land use restrictions or do not adhere to their own planning laws or master plans. The result is the expansion of towns and cities into hazard prone areas where more unsafe buildings are constructed.

Local governments have a pivotal role in reducing vulnerability to earthquakes, but national committees need to be set up to monitor enforcement of building codes, periodically appraise seismic risks, and recommend various mitigation measures for critical infrastructure, houses, industries, dams, nuclear plants and essential facilities such as schools and hospitals. Retrofitting strategies based on affordable engineering solutions are needed along with new initiatives for promoting insurance, both in the government and in the private sector. It would clearly be in the interests of national governments to create a mechanism like disaster insurance funded by contributions from annual budgets.

The lack of adequate prevention measures has been the main cause of casualties and economic losses in past earthquakes. And yet, there remains a fallacy that preparedness costs more than relief. There is also more political mileage to be gained from relief measures and this too has impeded attempts to prioritize preparedness measures.

The last few decades have seen an encouraging paradigm shift from relief to response to risk management that is influencing the way disaster management programs are planned and financed. However, these efforts claim a fraction of the resources allocated to humanitarian assistance, relief and post-disaster reconstruction. Below are a number of interventions that could be adopted in earthquake prone towns, cities, districts and provinces.

<> Raise public awareness and sensitize decision-makers: Most local governments have a negative image regarding delivery of basic services. As a result, most investments (public and private) are skewed towards upgrading existing basic infrastructure. The situation is further exacerbated by the increasing competition between cities to attract foreign direct investment. There is an urgent need to sensitize decision-makers and advocate for the importance of earthquake mitigation in their existing political and development agenda.

<> Recognize that earthquakes are not just ‘set backs’ to development, but result in part from the path that development is taking: Both technical and political groups need training. In urban areas in developing countries, a few individuals make most of the political decisions. Many development problems have been successfully addressed due to the commitment and positive outlook of politically powerful individuals; the “champions”. There are also champions who are not politically powerful but have the right outlook and commitment to work for a cause (engineers, fire fighters, government officers, etc.).

<> Conduct earthquake vulnerability assessments and develop damage scenarios: Earthquake damage scenarios describe the socio-economic and physical consequences of a possible earthquake. The damage scenario highlights the measurable socio-economic benefits of a preventive approach and helps disaster managers prepare before a disaster strikes. One effective way of raising awareness is to develop and disseminate an earthquake risk index for various areas.

<> Promote knowledge sharing and implementation of credible solutions for effective seismic risk mitigation: There is much to gain from reviewing the ever-expanding range of new knowledge being created in the Asia-Pacific region. Knowledge about innovative approaches and strategies for earthquake risk management is a valuable resource.




World Seismic Safety Initiative (WSSI) was established with the aim of disseminating information on state-of-the-art earthquake engineering systems, incorporating research findings and lessons, and recommending practices to reduce disaster vulnerability. WSSI involved government and financial institutions in accepting new technology for earthquake resistance through the provision of an organizational framework with sufficient financial resources to undertake projects on information exchange and sharing hazard information. For more information visit www.wssi.org

Earthquake and Mega Cities Initiative (EMI) was set up by a group from WSSI and focuses on addressing specific earthquake risk management issues of concern in mega cities (more than 3 million). The “twinning” concept was encouraged wherein experienced cities help less experienced cities with earthquake risk reduction measures. EMI brought together institutions, local authorities, the scientific community and others involved in risk management to accelerate the transfer of knowledge and experience. For more information visit www.earthquakesandmegacities.org/

Global Earthquake Safety Initiative (GESI) was developed by Geo Hazards International (GHI) and the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD) to build the capacity of city managers to assess risk from natural disasters, predict future risk patterns, and track the long-term success of efforts undertaken. GESI offers a method of quantifying the risk of loss of life in earthquakes in an effort to motivate community leaders to plan development to reduce risk. Geo Hazards International (GHI) and the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD) are also working to build a worldwide network of participants and technical advisors who will share mitigation and implementation plans to encourage long-term applications of the project results. For more information visit www.geohaz.org/project/gesi/GesiIntro.htm

RADIUS highlighted the need for people to understand seismic risk and raise public awareness as a first step towards seismic risk reduction. It worked to develop earthquake damage scenarios and action plans in the nine case study cities, 3 of which are in Asia Pacific (Bandung, Tashkent and Zigong). RADIUS developed tools for seismic risk management that can be applied to earthquake prone cities anywhere and promoted information exchange for seismic risk mitigation at city level. The RADIUS initiative has set the standard for earthquake mitigation strategies and measures in the 21st century. The appropriate international platform for disseminating RADIUS case studies and implementing strategies is now the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). More information is available at http://www.geohaz.org/radius/RADIUSIntro.htm

Asian Urban Disaster Mitigation Programme (AUDMP) was established in 1995 by ADPC. AUDMP is a nine-year programme designed to respond to the need for safer cities. Working with collaborating institutions in selected partner countries, the program strategy is a three-tiered approach working through National Demonstration Projects, Information and Networking, and Training and Resource Materials and Continuing Education. The National Demonstration project identifies partner cities vulnerable to disasters to provide working examples of urban hazard mitigation. The project includes assessment of a hazard or set of hazards followed by design and implementation of appropriate disaster mitigation measures. Two successful projects are the Kathmandu Valley Earthquake Risk Mitigation Project (KVERMP) in Kathmandu, implemented by the National Society for Earthquake Technology, Nepal, and the Indonesia Urban Disaster Mitigation Programme (IUDMP) at the Bandung Centre for Earthquake Engineering Studies (CEES) and Center for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) within the Institute for Research, Institut Teknologi Bandung.

The Training and Resource Materials and Continuing Education Unit of AUDMP has designed a series of regional-level courses for city managers on Earthquake Vulnerability Reduction for Cities (EVRC). The first regional course, which commenced in May 2002, was an important step by AUDMP to reflect the importance of earthquake disaster mitigation in the region. For more information visit www.adpc.net


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