Australia’s disaster risk preparedness helped prevent Cyclone Yasi casualties – UN official

Damaged trees and fences in Queensland, Australia caused by Tropical Cyclone Yasi. Photo: Rob and Stephanie Levy

4 February 2011 – A high level of disaster risk awareness, preparedness and planning helped prevent casualties when Tropical Cyclone Yasi struck north-east Australia earlier this week, the United Nations’ top disaster risk official said today, urging other countries to invest in improving their capacity to respond to such disasters.

“What people bill as a miracle comes down to understanding risk, and knowing how to reduce vulnerability and minimize exposure to risk,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, referring to news reports of Australians in the state of Queensland bunkering down in their homes, evacuating to shopping centres or driving to safer places further south.

Cyclone Yasi crossed into Queensland at midnight local time on Wednesday, but despite its category five strength, there were no reports of serious injuries or fatalities, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Ms. Wahlström noted that before the cyclone made landfall, authorities had warned that a “life threatening” weather system – with the intensity of Hurricane Katrina which struck the United States in 2005 – would slam the north-eastern coast. The warning was in line with last year’s predictions from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology that the country would experience more frequent and severe cyclones this season.

Australia has had a long history of dealing with extreme weather – from Cyclone Tracy in 1974 to Cyclone Larry in 2006, both category four storms – which has offered the country lessons on resilience.

“Not every at-risk country has the same level of risk awareness as Australia, which is worrying because any of them stand a chance of being hit by the next big storm,” said Ms. Wahlström. “Part of our advocacy is to convince governments to invest in building resilience amongst everyday people, and that no city is immune to disaster.”

The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Secretariat (UNISDR) is the secretariat of a strategic framework – known as the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and adopted by United Nations member states in 2000 – which aims to guide and coordinate the efforts to achieve substantive reduction in disaster losses and build resilient nations and communities as an essential condition for sustainable development.

In May, UNISDR will hold the third meeting of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, a gathering of the world’s disaster risk community to discuss accelerating world-wide momentum on disaster risk reduction.


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