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RIO+20 The Future We Want

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Hurricane Sandy sparks global discussions on disaster risk reduction and climate change issues

woman wading through water with her belongings2 November, 2012 – Hurricane Sandy, a devastating tropical cyclone that severely affected portions of the Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States last week, has spurred global conversations on how to reduce risks from disasters and on the role that climate change plays in storms such as Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy was an unusually large and destructive storm, breaking records in rainfall, flooding and barometric pressure. The storm left some 60 people dead in Haiti, more than 70 in the United States, two in the Bahamas, one in Jamaica and three in the Dominican Republic. Overall, 1.8 million people have been affected by the hurricane in Haiti, and in Cuba, half a million people had been affected, according to estimates. 375 health centres and several hospitals were damaged, as were 2,100 schools.

The Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement, offered his condolences to the millions of people who have been severely affected by Hurricane Sandy to “those who lost loved ones or their homes across a wide arc of destruction encompassing the United States and the Caribbean region.” He pledged full support of the UN in strengthening systems for reducing risks of global disasters.

flooded townThe UN’s Headquarters in New York, which is located along the East River, sustained damage due to high wind and flooding that affected communications and other infrastructure. Despite disruptions, all essential operations went ahead, including a meeting of the Security Council, and contacts with peacekeeping and other missions around the world were maintained without interruption. 

Margareta Wahlström, the UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, also said that Hurricane Sandy underlines global threat of climate change and more extreme events. "We can say with a high degree of confidence that those parts of the U.S. and the Caribbean which have borne the brunt of Hurricane Sandy will be vulnerable to repeat events of this 'magnitude due to rising sea levels and warmer coastal waters.”

She also pointed out that physical exposure to tropical cyclones around the world has almost “tripled over the last 40 years” and that the public infrastructure is not resilient enough to disasters. According to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, economic losses from disasters have grown to at least $1.3 trillion over the last twenty years, including $380 billion last year.

woman walking through flooded streetIn the aftermath of Sandy, there has been considerable discussion about the role of climate change and hurricanes among scientists, activists and concerned citizens.

Chris Field, the director of the Department of Global Ecology of the Carnegie Institution for Science and co-chair of a working group for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, wrote in an op-ed that “the evidence is not yet in for the East Coast in 2011 and 2012, but the general trends are increasingly clear. In its 2012 report on managing the risks of extreme events and disasters, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that "A changing climate leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration, and timing of extreme weather and climate events, and can result in unprecedented extreme weather and climate events." 

“As we learn more about the links between climate change and extreme events, it will benefit all of us to think hard about the opportunities and challenges of getting a handle on climate change, so we control it and not vice versa,” said Field.

Read more about recent efforts and initiatives for sustainable development in our News and Media section, here: http://www.un.org/en/sustainablefuture/news.shtml