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A major global relief and development agency has called upon world governments to make binding commitments to reduce risks from climate change-related disasters such as drought and flooding.

Islamic Relief, which currently works in 26 disaster-afflicted countries across the world, appealed to the UN to create a global contingency fund to finance drought and flood prevention projects.

In 2005, in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed almost 230,000 people in 2004, 168 governments agreed to the UN's Hyogo Framework Agreement (HFA), a ten-year plan to help vulnerable countries reduce the human and economic costs of climate-related disasters. But the commitments were not binding and, to date, the goals are unmet, Islamic Relief says.

The agency has now called for the UN to devise a "bold and binding international agreement to protect poor communities better when the voluntary and rather toothless Hyogo framework for action expires in 2015".

In Feeling the Heat: The human cost of poor preparation for disasters, published this week (1 October), the agency also calls for countries to invest in improving research and knowledge-sharing in particularly weak areas of disaster risk reduction (DRR).

Governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) help communities to mitigate the effects of natural disasters, but they do not share knowledge effectively, said Shahnawaz Ali, head of climate change and disaster resilience for Islamic Relief Bangladesh.

"Many good things are happening around the world, but these good lessons are not adequately documented," he told SciDev.Net, adding that governments with expertise must be encouraged to share findings and solutions.

For example, Bangladesh's exposure to flooding has prompted the government and aid agencies to create early warning systems for severe storms, but these systems have not been transferred to Africa where they could also be of assistance, Ali said.

Pre-emptive DRR strategies are vital for saving lives, businesses and community infrastructure, and are far more cost-effective than emergency disaster relief delivered after or during disasters, according to the report.

In April, for example, Islamic Relief helped villagers in Gaibanda state, Bangladesh, to build homes and farms on a raised earthen mound: when the worst storm for 25 years struck in June, the mound held fast despite the extensive flooding, and homes were left intact.

The cost of the mound and its maintenance for five years was around £8,400 (US$13,576), far less than the US$14,889 needed every month if the families had lost their homes during flooding.

While such prevention measures cost less and save lives, in 2010 world governments spent 23 times as much on emergency relief for the ten countries hit hardest by disasters as it spent on disaster prevention and preparedness (DPP), the report says.

Tom Mitchell, head of climate change at the Overseas Development Institute, said that "the importance of governments prioritising investment in disaster risk-reduction and preparedness cannot be understated" — particularly as the impact of climate change on people and livelihoods is expected to grow.

"A legally binding framework on DRR goals is likely to increase levels of investment but will be politically challenging to agree [upon]," he told SciDev.Net.  

Link to full report