Linking Disaster Rehabilitation
with Sustainable HUMAN DEVELOPMENT

10 – 12 June, 1999
Beijing, China


Opening Remarks
Workgroup 1: Disaster Forecasting
Workgroup 3: Technical Cooperation Among Developing Countries

Opening Remarks by Ms. Kerstin Leitner, United Nations Resident Coordinator in China, UNDP Resident Representative in China

Your Excellencies, Respected Guests, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,


On behalf of the United Nations System and the UN Development Programme in China, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the 1999 Beijing International Conference on Natural Disaster Management.

Natural disasters, such as the catastrophic 1998 floods in China, are exceptional and uncertain events. The principal cause of last summer's floods - the prolonged and massive rains that occurred in the upland basin of the Yangtze and at the same time in the lower reaches of the river basin, and in the Northern Provinces - was an extraordinary occurrence. So, too, was the unprecedented heavy snowmelt from Tibet and the Himalayas, which exacerbated the situation. Yet, disaster management is not just a relentless struggle with the uncertain natural events. We are far from powerless to predict, prepare for, and reduce the risk of natural disasters.

Though governments tend to plan and prepare based on the last disaster event rather than for the one to come, our efforts to learn from previous disasters must not be disparaged, as we can and do build on experience, as the Chinese situation shows.

Disaster Rescue and Relief

In terms of water levels, the 1998 flooding compares to the dramatic floods of 1931, 1935 and 1954 that occurred in the Yangtze River basin. Although these three earlier floods took place in the context of lower population density and lower environmental degradation, the casualties suffered were dramatically higher:

In comparison, the 1998 floods affected over 180 million people, but timely flood warning and massive flood fighting efforts limited the death toll to 4,100 people.

Clearly, China built on its previous experience of flooding to combat the 1998 disaster. Of particular note in this regard was the effectiveness with which local communities and the People’s Liberation Army were mobilized to combat the floods. This kind of effective response is a product of long-term preparation, discipline, and training. Later this morning, we will hear a presentation from the Ministry of Civil Affairs on the unprecedented mobilization of national resources that took place to assist flood victims in 1998.

To complement these efforts, the United Nations system in China launched an International Appeal for Flood Emergency Relief and Immediate Rehabilitation on 23 September 1998. The US$ 139 million appeal was designed to last four months and to provide emergency relief to the most vulnerable flood victims in the form of food, shelter, water supply and sanitation facilities, disease control services, seeds and fertilizer, and construction materials for rehabilitation of schools. The international community has provided more than US$ 110 million in response to the appeal. The bulk of this assistance was delivered by the end of January 1999. The UN Disaster Management Team will tell us more this afternoon about the lessons to be drawn from this UN Inter-Agency Appeal.

Disaster Forecasting and Preparedness

Although disaster response measures for the flooding last summer were very well co-ordinated, the positive impact of earlier measures taken to prevent and prepare for the disaster should not be underestimated.

Successful disaster mitigation involves a chain of inter-linking activities that include awareness-raising, monitoring, forecasting, preparation, response, relief, rehabilitation, and long-term risk reduction. A preponderance of attention and funding is typically concentrated on "relief and rehabilitation," while many other links of the chain have historically and consistently received little support. For successful natural disaster mitigation, it is essential that all links in this chain be strengthened. Relief and rehabilitation are the most obvious targets, for when a disaster occurs, there are often many casualties and displaced persons. Yet the other links of the chain, though less visible, are even more important to the mitigation of disasters. Preparedness and mitigation measures taken prior to a disaster are by far the most effective in diminishing the event’s impact.

The experience of China’s floods last year is a case in point. All sectors of Chinese society have a good general awareness of flood disasters. While China is affected by floods every year, early in 1998 disaster scientists of China recognized the looming threat of exceptional, "once-in-a-hundred-year" floods. A half-year before the flooding began, Chinese scientists predicted heavy rains for Southern China. The concern was that tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of lives were at stake, and that there might be tremendous economic damage to major metropolises. In February, this prediction caught the attention of the Chinese National Committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, which sits within the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Soon after, the Government issued a warning to concerned provinces to prepare for possible floods in the summer months.

These provinces proceeded to strengthen and extend their dyke systems along the Yangtze and other rivers, to empty reservoirs, and to prepare personnel and materials to aid flood victims. Devastating floods inundated the Southern provinces, but the reinforced dyke systems remained strong enough to protect the cities, thereby reducing social and economic losses. Later this morning, we will hear a presentation from the Ministry of Civil Affairs on how Chinese scientists alerted decision-makers and, once alerted, how the decision-makers initiated flood preparedness.

Through the United Nations Global Programme for the Integration of Public Administration and the Science of Disasters, the UN system closely followed the increasingly worrisome flood forecasts. From May onwards, United Nations agencies and the Government of China worked together effectively to mitigate the flood disaster. In June in Southern China, just before the serious floods hit, a UNDP-funded workshop was held to train disaster-relief managers from 13 flood-prone southern provinces.

Although scientific forecasting played a significant role in these floods, the greatest lesson that we can learn from last year’s mitigation success is the importance of communication in disaster reduction. What took place in February 1998 was an effective sharing and exchange of information by scientists and public administrators. Scientists can see ahead, but their results are of little use unless they are understood and acted upon by public administrators. It is the linking up of these two professional communities that makes the greatest difference in disaster mitigation. Advances in scientific capacity are meaningless if we remain behind in disaster management decision-making and communication procedures.

However, the 1998 forecasting and preparedness success should not encourage complacency among forecasters and decision-makers. Too often, such successes lead to unwillingness to credit new findings, concerns, or changing realities. So let us also remember that there were some delays last year in the dissemination of flood predictions to all concerned parties; moreover, the effectiveness of responses varied greatly from one location to another. Our scientific ability to anticipate and predict disasters still far exceeds our capacity to communicate disaster-related information to public administrators, scientists, and society at large. Not one of these questions is unique to the Chinese experience in 1998, of course. Rather, such concerns apply to every country and every political system.

In addition to forecasting, technological development has the potential to strengthen each link of the disaster mitigation chain. Additional mitigation measures that are not economically feasible in the current state-of-the-art could prove critical to reduce floods should the technology further evolve. An illustration is the artificial seeding of rain. It stands to reason, had China succeeded in artificially inducing the rain to fall over the sea, instead of hitting the lower reaches of the Yangtze Valley, there would have been a quicker flow of the flood waters from the upper reaches of the river. I urge you to be forward looking and sincerely consider emerging mitigation measures to reduce floods.

Although this conference will focus mainly on weather disasters, the concepts to be discussed here apply to all natural disasters. For example, a recent UNDP project for relief to earthquake victims in western China established a seismic monitoring network now being operated by local administrators. In March of this year, these administrators observed signals, which their team agreed, related to a possible magnitude-five earthquake in their immediate region, to occur before March 20. On March 17, as they had anticipated, there was an earthquake of magnitude 4.7. While this UNDP project is just in its pilot stage, it holds great promise as an example of how local capacity for mitigating large and sudden disasters can be strengthened.

To conclude on disaster forecasting: Improvements in the information gathering and transmission of disaster predictions to the responsible authorities and the general public is essential to save lives and protect the possessions of people. UNDP is focusing its current attention primarily on these aspects.

Disaster Rehabilitation and Risk Reduction

As we discuss the Chinese floods, and other disasters, it is important not to attribute all disaster events to exceptional natural phenomena. This is part of the problem, but not the whole story. For, of course, in the case of the Yangtze flooding, many underlying ecological problems and improper patterns of development contributed to the disaster, none of which occurred overnight. Indeed, in the case of the Yangtze River Basin, the ecological and development problems amount almost to a recipe for flood vulnerability:

None of these factors are recent developments nor are they unique to the Yangtze River Valley. They indicate a structural vulnerability of the Yangtze River Valley to catastrophic floods and other hydrological disasters. Unless the root causes of natural disasters are addressed, the cost in lives and in property from natural disasters is bound to increase steadily.

China is a natural hazard prone country. On average, annual economic loss from natural disasters ranges from three to four percent of Gross Domestic Product, equivalent to about one-third of annual Government fiscal revenue. If we fail to incorporate the occurrence of natural disasters into development planning, the social and economic losses that disasters cause will continue to increase in proportion to the economic growth of the country. Furthermore, sustained economic growth would not be possible, if the impacts of recurring natural disasters are not minimized and mitigated.

Concluding that the flooding had been worsened by environmental degradation, the Government formulated a new policy framework to promote ecological watershed management in September 1999. As a result, a massive plan to redirect land-use management in river basins, especially in the Yangtze River Basin and the Yellow River Basin, was initiated.

Key aspects of this initiative include:

    1. Prohibiting logging in mountainous areas and transforming former logging brigades into reforestation brigades;
    2. Reconverting farmlands to forest lands or plowing these back to wetlands;
    3. Restoring wetlands and lakes in the flood planes of major rivers to the 1954 capacity to reestablish the natural absorption capacity of the river channels;
    4. Relocate human settlements situated in hazardous flood areas.

The importance of incorporating disaster reduction into rehabilitation activities in the aftermath of a natural disaster, of taking on the challenge of turning a catastrophic event into an opportunity for sustainable development, is often overlooked. Let us, therefore, tackle this during the conference. Let us discuss how the strengthening of disaster reduction can act as a critical link in a successful disaster mitigation chain. I request you, in addressing this issue this week, not only to learn from the assembled experience gathered here, but also to extrapolate from that experience, and think imaginatively, to avoid the disasters to come.

UN Assistance for Disaster Management

Given the critical importance of disaster reduction, the Government requested the UN system to launch a second flood appeal on 10 February 1999. The aim of the February appeal was to spur efforts to: (i) Consolidate the results of flood relief work; (ii) Rehabilitate essential human settlements, education and production facilities; and (iii) Implement integrated flood management and information systems to mitigate flood risk in the future.

This appeal is not limited to a specific time period. Its objective is to identify a set of priority disaster rehabilitation and mitigation measures to be funded by the international community as part of its disaster relief or regular official development assistance with China.

Recognizing the cumulative destructive effects of recurring natural disasters on sustainable human development, the United Nations System in China has maintained the development of disaster management skills as a major focus of its regular assistance to China.

The United Nations Development Programme, which I directly represent in China, has supported 27 projects in the area of natural disasters for close to $ 24 million of grant assistance over its past 20 years in China. In addition to emergency relief, part of UNDP assistance aimed to support each link in a successful disaster mitigation chain; from flood forecasting for the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers using weather radar and improved telecommunication system in 1982, to the provision of technical assistance for the formulation of the National Disaster Reduction Plan in 1998. The UNDP remains committed to natural disaster reduction and sustainable human development. In accordance with the Second UN Inter-Agency Appeal, UNDP assistance will focus in the near future on:

  1. Strengthening communication of disaster-related information between public administrators, scientists and society;
  2. Assisting participatory approaches to render the reconstructed human settlement outside of flood areas viable;
  3. Supporting efforts to redirect land-use management in river basins and to restore wetlands and damaged soils.

Dr. Nay Htun, UN Assistant Administrator and UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, will tell us more about UNDP efforts in the area of soil rehabilitation and sustainable land-use management in his closing address at the conclusion of the workshop.

I invite you to enjoy yourselves, and to make this a pleasant and instructive conference.



Workshop Discussion Group No. 1
Disaster Forecasting, Including Simulation and Early Warning of Catastrophic Natural Disasters

(p. 103-105)

Facilitator: Terry Jeggle, Senior Officer, IDNDR Secretariat, Geneva

Reporter: Douglas Ling, International System Advisor, UNGP-IPASD, United States


A paper on the Prediction of Continuous Rainstorms in the 1998 Flood Period was made by Prof. Ding Yi-Hui, China Meteorological Administration, National Climate Center. He showed the use of snow cover data from the 1997 El Nino data and monsoon data in the prediction. He also discussed his statistical approach and modeling.

Flood prediction in 1998, was also discussed by Prof. Chen Jiu-Yi, of the China Meteorological Administration. His report discussed the study of SSTA and SOI variation over 40 years. His prediction model data correlated with actual rainfall in the Yangtze River region

The successful forecast of the 1998 Floods in South China using cloud stripe patterns from meteorological satellite images was discussed by Jean J. Chu of the United Nations Global Programme for the Integration of Public Administration and the Science of Disasters (UNGP-IPASD). She discussed Chinese databases developed over a period of 10 to 30 years of research, and on additional tools for earthquake and rainstorm prediction for mid-term forecasting (1-year). A report was submitted to the MOCA in February 1998, on 4 areas of heavy rainstorms using empirical methods. Prof. Ren Zhenqiu then provided information on the prediction of imminent disasters.

Gabriel Arduino of WMO discussed scientific resources that have been devoted to hydrological forecasting. There are 6 regional working groups with international exchange of data. Different time scales for forecasting are one focus of the working groups. Modeling and computing has improved greatly; there is how better convergence between simulation and forecasting models.

Iouri Oliounine, of UNESCO-IOC, discussed implementation of global, regional, and local monitoring and warning systems. One example is the Pacific Tsunami Warning System with 60 tidal and seismic stations. The Tsunami Warning System has 100 prediction sites operated by member states. Local prediction sites are in Hawaii, Alaska, Japan, and Russia looking at the South East Pacific Ocean. The Tsunami Warning System for the Philippines and for Papua New Guinea is of critical importance.

Communication links for all levels from national, to regional, to local centers, to the people are fundamental. These communication links need to be critically monitored and tested every two years, and the technology and procedures need to be updated continuously. Open and free access to data, both real-time and historical, with CDROM data made available is needed.

All of these preparedness needs to be well funded. For education, a four-volume text book has been published by Chile. Human memory is short so floods are "well funded" because they are frequent; Tsunamis are not frequent and thus are not well funded.

Terry Jeggle of the IDNDR Secretariat reported on the Postdam meeting where six types of disaster early warning were discussed. Observations were similar across all types of disasters. Early warning must be viewed as a process, not an event needing scientific analysis of a each particular disaster. Vulnerable communities need to take charge of their preparedness using many forms of communication including electronic, database, and traditional media. The human dimension of "bringing early warning down to Earth" needs to be stressed. Capacity to prepare is essential and must be transferred over different disciplines to link research, analysis, public administration, and public education.

Group Discussion

The group discussion first focused on how we can facilitate greater influence of scientific prediction in public policy.

The human dimension is appreciated, for scientists may be too hurried to produce early warning; and government is reluctant to make decisions. Despite improvement of early warning techniques, failures still abound. False warnings have extreme economic and social cost. How to improve prediction methods is a fundamental question.

Data exchange for making predictions, and verification of models is needed. The cost of obtaining and maintaining data may be expensive for developing countries. For example, hydrological stations may not provide free data in a timely fashion.

Hydro-meteorological monitoring stations need to be sustainable. The linkage between climate prediction and meteorological forecasting can converge to extend the time in which we can predict extreme events.

Any data can become disaster data. Oceanographic data from ships was available in the past; but after 1993, data have not been collected by many vessels. Fuller understanding of integration of different disciplines and international agencies is critical.

The group discussion then focused on how can we improve and foster exchange of information.

Multiple agencies participated in forecasting the Chinese Summer 1998 flooding; their findings concurred which helped make decision making easier. But what if scientific findings do not coincide? How will the decision makers respond? The El Nina forecast was a similar situation. Only a few countries followed the forecast. Brazil changed their crop schedule to respond to the prediction; but the Philippines did not. In China, the National Disaster Information Center may be the central agency for information synthesis. But accuracy is crucial; more efficient management and training are also important.

Sudden catastrophic disasters including storms, typhoons, and earthquakes are major challenges and it was suggested that more scientific work needs to be done; not just on internal causes but also on external triggering forces. For example, rainstorms can intensify due to tide generating forces; this method is also used in studying earthquakes.

The WMO working group on hydrology in South America is working on showing the impact of scientific information to policy makers. The CIDNDR will establish a center to integrate and synthesize information and serve as a data delivery channel both domestically and internationally. The mission of the Center is not to make recommendations, but to promote access to information. For example, the Ministry of Hydrology will be responsible for the issuance of warning. Long term meteorological forecasting is difficult. Expert opinions differ greatly at annual meeting on forecasting – for both floods and drought in even one region. China has many different approaches to predict large disasters; we may need to take a holistic approach. The Jiashi example showed that the prediction was accurate. Local administrators need to make decisions; public administrators may be somewhat skeptical, but may still take the path of better-safe-than-sorry.

In the Philippines example, scientists went on TV to explain the threat of the most Pinatubo volcanic disaster as a bridge between scientists and the public. The use of media is very important.

A third discussion theme was how can information be shared among countries? International organization such as the UN remains the ideal intermediary. Information systems and scientific venues to foster new early warning research and validation of methodologies are fundamental. We need to document trials, research procedures, and results.

Summary of the Group Discussion

  1. Idea, experiences, and opportunities as they relate to increasing influence of scientific information for public administrations for disaster reduction are important.
  2. Several techniques and experience that can help in exchanges between countries include:

Open communication between the triad of public administrators, scientists, and the public must be created. Open data access should be encouraged. Accurate forecast is important but communication is the key to effective preparedness and mitigation.


Workshop Discussion Group No. 3
Strengthening Sustainability to Reduce Vulnerability to Natural Disasters Through Technical Cooperation Among Developing Countries

(p. 109-110)

Facilitator: Mr. Marshall Silver, Consultant in Disaster Management, UNDP/Hanoi; Senior Technical Advisor to Disaster Management Unit, UNDP Country Office, Vietnam.

Reporter: Dr. Jeanne-Marie Col, Senior Interregional Adviser, UNDESA/New York Coordinator, UN Global Programme for the Integration of Public Administration and the Science of Disasters, UNGP-IPASD.

Group Three recommends (1) less talk and more action; (2) launching of meaningful Technical Cooperation Among Developing Countries (TCDC), with a wider range of modalities between countries in all locations, with all types of natural disasters, and at all stages of modernization and development; (3) stronger communication of information and coordination of action among scientists, public administrators, and citizens; (4) linkages between prediction, preparedness, the event(s), relief, rehabilitation and especially development; (5) promotion of administrator and community understanding of probability so that disaster preparedness relates to the probability of the event, as well as the likely impact; (6) establishment of instruments of "disaster-impact-assessment" for development projects; and (5) documentation of best practices in natural disaster mitigation worldwide.

Natural disaster mitigation is an essential ingredient for strategic development in countries that are regularly affected by natural disasters, be they annually expected, major, or catastrophic. Indeed, history shows that the development progress is often slowed or halted when huge natural disasters, such as floods, typhoons, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions occur. Many modem trends, such as rapid population growth and urbanization, environmental degradation, and global climatic changes are amplifying the effects of natural disasters. Large disasters not only cause development funds to be shifted into relief activities, but also shift public attention to the past and away from the future. The effects are physical, economic, social, psychological, and developmental.

Effective development strategies in the 21st Century require a framework for reducing vulnerability to destructive natural disasters. "Best practices" in natural disaster mitigation can be found in many countries, whose officials can learn from each other's experiences. Technical Cooperation Among Developing Countries is most effective when it involves scientists, public administrators, and citizens of communities vulnerable to natural disasters. Indeed, only through integrating science, public administration, and public awareness and participation can the greatest natural disaster tragedies be avoided. When citizens, administrators, and scientists share perspectives with each other, they establish the basis for taking joint action, and create action networks throughout their communities. Intensified joint action for natural disaster mitigation enhances self-reliance, well-being, and orientation to the future; as well as community survival and sustainable human development.

The special message of this group is that while strengthening science, public administration, and public education, investment must also be targeted to facilitate linkages between these three pillars for development success. Thus, all three targets need to be included in technical cooperation activities; be these study tours, exchanges, cooperative projects, or linkages through the Internet.

In particular, Group 3 noted that both likely impact and likely probability characterize a natural disaster. Further, the group noted that the most difficult case is the situation of a relatively unlikely disaster that is likely to cause relatively massive destruction. A participant noted that investment in monitoring and forecasting depended upon available funds and on the relative usefulness of the several methods of natural disaster forecasting. This discussion led to the conclusion that efforts should be made to the development of an instrument for evaluating the accuracy of various methods of natural disaster prediction. This instrument could assist decision-makers to invest in the most effective forecasting methodologies. The linkage between forecasting, preparedness, recovery, and development illustrates a complete and integrated disaster cycle, with elaboration of each element. Pre-disaster involves defense, reduction, and preparedness; while after a disaster strikes, there are responses, reconstruction, and development. At best, these six activities are integrated so that development activities contribute to disaster mitigation.

The group also noted that at least nine systems are involved in natural disaster mitigation: (1) vulnerability assessment; (2) planning; (3) institution building; (4) information collection, management, and sharing; (5) resource mobilization; (6) warning; (7) response; (8) public education; and (9) drills or rehearsals of disaster event response. Of these systems, there are at least five administrative systems: organizational (framework of coordinating institutions), manpower (government, technical, military, and citizens); material (lifelines for water, food, displaced persons, clothing, shelter, medicines and medical care, power, and communications facilities); financial (local, regional, national and international), and technical (monitoring, forecasting, information communication and warning, and applied research, such as simulation models, geographic information systems, and risk analysis). Other participants highlighted the importance of working with the private sector, insurance companies, and NGOs. The group noted that the legal framework, including laws, regulations, plans, and management of these group frameworks are all areas to be strengthened.

The representative of Anhui Province noted that their contingency planning for flood disasters involved many government organizations (such as civil affairs, water resources, finance department, health services, and disaster relief units), as well as cooperation from the private sector and communities. Further, he noted their effort to use the relief rehabilitation resources and process to make many areas less vulnerable to future natural disasters. The representative further noted that local, regional, national and international resources assisted in the preparedness and 1998 flood recovery process in Anhui Province.

Technical Cooperation Among Developing Countries is an important modality for promoting and sharing of perspectives and experiences. Technical cooperation activities include study tours, exchanges, cooperative projects, or linkages, and e-mail exchanges through the Internet. Indeed, one participant suggested a "global disaster internet university" through which best practices and perspectives could be shared, with participants utilizing those concepts and methods that they find most useful in their countries. An internet-based system could facilitate the posting of, for example, materials, lectures, and documentation of best practices. Participants noted the usefulness of the IDNDR sponsored internet conferences.

The group agreed that with the advent of the "global environment", the "global economy", and the "information age". All types of technical cooperation are required, involving developing countries, developed countries, and countries affected by all types of natural disasters. Indeed, there is no limit to the variety of potential partnerships to share and assist in disaster mitigation. The group agreed that the United Nations should play a lead role in facilitating such partnerships, and especially Technical Cooperation Among Developing Countries.