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FLAWED responses to disasters do more harm than good, says Red Cross report

Updated:

GENEVA (AP) _ Badly thought-out aid efforts that don't pay enough attention to rebuilding the economy of a devastated area can do more harm than good to disaster victims in the long run, leaving them vulnerable to future catastrophes, said a Red Cross report published Thursday.

The World Disasters Report, issued annually by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said that well-meaning relief efforts following a disaster are frequently badly planned.

``Too often, efforts at reconstruction after a major disaster don't lead to recovery,'' said Didier Cherpitel, secretary-general of the Geneva-based federation. ``Instead, they end up rebuilding the risk of danger in future disasters by ignoring economic realities.''

The 248-page report cited survivors of Venezuela's devastating mudslides in 1999 who were moved to safer but remote areas. They found themselves unable to make a living and began drifting back to their original homes _ and are again at risk.

The report said that 256 million people were affected by disasters in 2000, with 20,000 deaths. Over the past decade, 750,000 have died.

About 53 percent of aid projects worldwide focused on rebuilding infrastructure, while just 10 percent helped boost economic recovery in disaster areas, the report said.

It claimed governments, aid agencies and the media give too much attention to structural damage and loss of life, but too little to lost livelihoods.

The report also looked at what it called ``leakage'' of aid money from countries hit by disaster. It gave the example of relief money sent to flood-prone Bangladesh, saying 60 percent of funds donated from 1990 to 1995 were paid to foreign consultants.

It blamed an obsession with big projects to repair damaged infrastructure.

``There's an automatic tendency to go for big projects, but few poor, disaster-hit countries have the necessary expertise, so they have to call in foreign advisers,'' said Roger Bracke, the federation's Head of Operations for Africa.

The Red Cross said aid agencies need to rethink their approach, focusing less on quickly building structures that are destroyed the next time disaster strikes. They also need to involve local people in aid projects, to ensure funds stay in the affected country, it said.

``The current thinking is that we have to keep disasters away from potential victims, for example by building dikes,'' said Bracke. ``But aid agencies should be doing more to prepare victims to deal with the consequences of disasters which cannot genuinely be avoided.''

The federation said it is investing more of its money in community-based programs which will help people get ready for future disasters. A disaster education program and the construction of just 23 cyclone shelters saved 40,000 lives in the Indian state of Orissa in October 1999, it claimed.

In Vietnam local communities had designed and built flood-resistant houses at a cost of just $500 per home. Only one of the 2,450 houses was destroyed during annual floods, the report said.
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