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[SUZHOU] The International Council for Science (ICSU) is to create a research programme to reduce threats posed by natural and human-induced disasters.

ICSU's Gordon McBean, who will head the international programme, said it would combine both natural and social sciences, and focus on the needs of policymakers.

McBean was speaking in China at the council's 28th General Assembly, which yesterday (19 October) adopted the plan.

McBean said the programme would research ways to forecast disasters and also study what makes people vulnerable to them.

"We will look into how to build communities that are able to quickly respond to disaster risks, and how to inform people in the first place when hazards come along."

Between 1910 and 2000, the number of recorded natural disasters per decade rose from 100 to 2,800, according an ICSU report presented yesterday. It says that in 2004, disasters cost US$140 billion in damage, a price tag likely to be dwarfed by the figure for 2005.

"Despite a slew of related research […] we still lack sufficient knowledge to predict earthquakes, and we sometimes make misleading weather forecasts," McBean said.

He said that better communication of scientific information was needed to educate the public and policymakers.

Marshall Jayasuriya, director of the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka, says that last year's tsunami showed how important it is for the ICSU programme to include efforts to prepare for disasters.

McBean said developing countries, especially small island states, would be involved in the programme to provide a range of views.

David Mbah, executive general of the Cameroon Academy of Sciences, said African countries need technology, scientific knowledge and monitoring equipment to predict disasters and warn people.

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