Friday, January 20, 2012

France developing 'culture of risk prevention'

Dizery Salim on the website for the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction: Speaking at France’s first-ever conference on hazards, the UN disaster risk reduction chief, Margareta Wahlström, yesterday commended the French government for its efforts to implement disaster risk reduction nationally, saying that the country could be a model for others in Europe.

Speaking in Bordeaux, at the National Conference on Natural Hazards – Assises Nationales des Risques Naturels – Ms. Wahlström highlighted France’s active role in the European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction, at a time when Europe accounts for 14.3% of global economic losses due to disasters.

Two years ago, France was badly hit by tropical cyclone Xynthia, incurring $4.2 billion in damage as the storm whipped through western Europe in late February and early March 2010. About 50 people were killed and nearly 900,000 people were left without electricity. “Afterwards, the country did a remarkable job of mainstreaming the lessons learnt from Xynthia into national plans for disaster management and plans for infrastructure and for flood protection,” said Ms. Wahlström...

...Already, 7,700 municipalities in hazard prone areas have developed local plans for disaster prevention, with 4,000 more municipalities about to do the same. France has also strengthened its urban planning codes, which incorporate disaster prevention and risk reduction as key elements.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, France’s Minister for Environment, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing, told delegates that “France is rather good” at managing natural hazards, and a new attitude towards planning along the coast after Xynthia had led to “a number of constructions bans, changes in planning rules. But state policy would only be effective if the country adopts a culture of risk prevention,” warned the minister.

She cautioned against added risks posed by new technology, which she said could cause a “domino effect” when combined with commonly occurring natural hazards, such as floods, earthquakes, avalanches and landslides....

An extratropical cyclone named Xynthia brought hurricane-force winds and high waves to Western Europe at the end of February 2010, CNN reported. Winds as fast as 200 kilometers (125 miles) per hour reached as far inland as Paris, and at the storm’s peak, hurricane-force winds extended from Portugal to the Netherlands. Hundreds of people had to take refuge from rising waters on their rooftops. By March 1, at least 58 people had died, some of them struck by falling trees. Most of the deaths occurred in France, but the storm also caused casualties in England, Germany, Belgium, Spain, and Portugal.

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