As the earthquake in the Iranian city of Bam graphically showed late last year, natural disasters wreak havoc on the people and places they strike. And they require a world effort not just to clean up the mess, but also to study ways of mitigating the damage they cause.
Natural disasters come in different shapes and sizes. Europeans are more familiar with floods and storms, forest fires in the south, as well as some landslides and avalanches. Less common in Europe – but a major problem worldwide in terms of the potential death and destruction they bring – are earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
|Ancient city of Bam before the devastating earthquake|
© Source: Internet sources
While a great deal of effort and money goes into the after-effects of natural disasters, there is clearly room for more to be done to help understand their causes and to find better ways of tackling them. Research programmes backed by the European Union, which are dedicated to assessing, managing, mitigating and even preventing these disasters, are a step in the right direction.
As, too, is the initiative of the Indian Institute of Engineers in organising next month's World Congress on Natural Disasters in the Indian capital, New Delhi. The aim of the congress is to promote wide-ranging debate in this area, allowing engineers, architects, policy-makers, scientists, and government and non-government agencies to share their experiences and ‘best practices' in mitigating the effects of natural disasters.
Organisers of the event expect to develop an action plan for natural disaster mitigation and management, which would also identify the roles of governments, international agencies and civil society.
Disaster networks work
At the European level, research on natural disasters serves several purposes; namely to reduce the socio-economic and environmental consequences of such events by developing and implementing technologies and early-warning systems to help planners prepare for their onset.
One aspect of the research is to investigate – either separately or via a ‘multi-risk' approach – the possible causes of these acts of nature. Where relevant, researchers are also being encouraged by the European Commission to look into the possible links between disasters and climate change. A special Global Change Unit has been created within the Directorate-General for Research to oversee this research.
Another important aspect in disaster mitigation is effective communication between the key stakeholders at European and world levels. The EU has supported the setting up of EU-MEDIN (Euro-Mediterranean Disaster Information Network) whose job, according to a recent publication by the Commission entitled ‘Research on Natural Disasters', is to “promote the sharing of disaster-related information and data, research results, knowledge and expertise”.
EU sources, news reports