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close this bookEcology of Natural Disasters (Université Catholique de Louvain , 1971, 24 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentConclusions
View the documentProgramme
View the documentPoints proposed for discussion
View the documentOrganizing committee
View the documentList of participants


I. Legal aspects

Taking into consideration the efforts made by various governmental and non-governmental bodies, notably the League of Red Cross Societies and voluntary agencies, and aimed at improving the organization of relief activities in the event of natural disasters, taking also into consideration the need for enhancing the cooperation now being pursued in this field at the national, regional and international levels, the Seminar proposed that:

1. It be examined whether some principles of humanitarian law of the Fourth Geneva Convention, dated 12 August 1949, relating to the protection of civil persons in time of war, could not be taken as an example for similar conventions which could become applicable in the event of natural disasters.

2. A coordinating body be set up in each country which would be responsible for:

a. collecting the relevant information on the needs of disaster-stricken countries and national capabilities for assistance;

b. harmonizing its activities with these of international, intergovernmental or voluntary agencies;

c. coordinating whenever necessary the activities of the government, the national society of Red Cross and those voluntary agencies willing to participate;

d. taking all necessary practical measures for bringing relief and distributing supplies.

3. Account be taken of the opportunities offered by regional agreements and the resources made available in this way increased by

a. exchanging information and coordinating the activities of the countries which are parts to these agreements;

b. pooling, whenever necessary, their resources with the aim of carrying out combined relief activities.

4. Standard conventions be drafted and adopted which would be proposed to all countries, for application whenever and wherever a given country, or several countries, decides to send emergency relief teams to another country at the latter's request. This convention should define the rights and obligations of the personnel making up these theams, as well at the relations between the states concerned which could result from their intervention.

The following points should be specifically considered:

a. problems of civil responsibility;

b. problems of penal responsibility;

c. competence of the courts;

d. a speedy procedure with respect to shipment and entry (granting of visas, rates of exchange, entry of equipment and supplies, landing rights and taxes, shipping taxes, customs, transit procedures);

e. the practice of medicine by the personnel making up medical teams (physicians, pharmacists, auxiliary personnel);

f. the use of equipment and supplies after the relief activities have been completed;

g. repatriation and special cases (death, etc.).


a. A universal radio frequency be adopted, which could be immediately made available in the event of natural disasters;

b. Special facilities be granted to humanitarian relief teams for emergency radio transmissions, by taking special measures with respect to the following points:

1. prior allocation of radio frequencies,
2. granting of special indicatives,
3. authorization to establish fixed and/or mobile stations required for the relief's activities.

6. In particular, consideration be given to the possibility of establishing special conventions for simplifying the overflight and landing of aircrafts when exclusively used for relief activities.

II. Concrete problems involved in disaster relief response

After due deliberation, the Seminar

1. Stated that in view of the basic importance of country disaster plans to any orderly national and/or international response, renewed efforts should be made to get as many countries as possible throughout the world to formulate such plans without delay.

In this respect, a most important type of technical assistance for donor countries would be to provide, upon request, expertise and consultantship for establishing such plans in disaster-prone countries.

2. Agreed upon the maintenance of essential disaster stockpiles of a limited nature on a national level, particularly in disaster-prone countries. Also agreed and suggested that reasonable monetary reserves be set up, both nationally and by international organizations, so as to be available for use as a first response in disaster areas. However, it was indicated that regional stock-piling of disaster supplies requires additional studies before plans for such can be made.

3. Stressed the importance of inventorying and monitoring existing disaster stocks of goods and services and suggested that such original information will best be compiled and updated through the proposed United Nations Coordinator, the League of Red Cross Societies and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies acting in collaboration.

4. In view of the overriding importance of the proper marking and labeling of supplies, requested the League of Red Cross Societies, as the fore-runner in this field, to invite representatives of the appropriate international, national, and voluntary agencies to convene in Geneva in 1972 to study, to formalize and to adopt a common marking and labeling system.

5. Recommended a vigorous effort to encourage member governments of the International Air Transportation Association to urge this body to set up special concessional rates of the carrying of supplies for disaster relief to supplement the present inadequate free “when, as and if space available” basis.

6. Because of the current dearth of existing reliable information on the vital subject of public health as it relates to disasters, urged a study to be undertaken as soon as possible on the epidemiology of disasters.

7. Suggested that the organizations represented at the Seminar use their influence to hasten the participation of the governments in the ICRC-LICROSS communication network, which presently has the approval of only a few governments but which, since it has already proven its efficacy and value in disaster work, merits the cooperation of all.

8. Since the cost and availability of adequate internal and external transportation is such a vital factor in disaster response, urged a review and examination of current transport technology, so that the benefit of such research can be made available to the agencies concerned at an early date.

9. Encouraged by the experience gained most recently in Peru and in Bangladesh, where the need was clearly demonstrated for the development of more ingenious ways of meeting basic human needs, including shelter, sanitation, clothing, food and medical assistance, recommended increased utilization of available and technical resources, particularly in the areas of pre-disaster planning, and in packaging and equipment.

10. Formally recognized the scope and intensity of the problem involved in channeling the desire of that sector of the public which wished to help through contributions of gifts-in-kind, towards those supplies which are actually in need at the particular time, and appeals for the cooperation of the world's press, radio and TV in the dissemination of accurate information on this subject.

In this connection, the agencies involved recognize their own responsibility to make such specific information readily available for the intended purpose.

III. Personnel

1. It is most important that international relief activities be carried out by qualified, specially prepared personnel. Selection of such personnel requires that the needed qualifications and skills be further studied, taking into account the tasks to be performed in each type of disaster. This calls for a close cooperation between the agencies of the United Nations, the League of Red Cross Societies and other voluntary agencies.

2. As far as possible this personnel should be recruited from governmental or voluntary agencies having experience and routine responsibilities for relief. This calls for a better coordination, on the national, regional or international levels, between the various countries and/or agencies which are likely to provide assistance in the event of natural disasters, aiming at the most efficient use of human resources for relief, without undue duplication, overlapping or competition. Voluntary agencies could play an important role by contributing to the collection and exchange of information related to available personnel.

3. Recruiting of personnel should take into account the selection criteria listed in the Red Cross Disaster Relief Handbook published by the League of Red Cross Societies (1970), most particularly the psychological criteria required for dealing with foreign populations and living in a relief team.

4. With respect to accepting last minute spontaneous offers from volunteers, a most important factor is the possibility of supervising them and providing the adequate qualified support. Preference should therefore be given to associations or groups with an adequate structure, rather than to isolated persons. Prevision should be made in advance in the national plan for decision in selecting these offers.

5. Taking into account the appropriate criteria, victims of disasters should be called on to participate in a useful way in rescue and relief activities, according to their psychological conditions. Studies should be encouraged for increasing the knowledge of the reactions and psychological needs of the population in the event of disaster.

6. Measures should be taken to inform the public, through the appropriate channels, why only some offers for cooperation may have to be accepted. In this respect the donor-agencies, as well as the authorities in the disaster-stricken areas, should provide the mass-media with objective and documented information.

7. The curriculum of medical and paramedical studies should include an education programme in first aid, emergency health, mass medicine, nutrition, and logistics for rescue and relief. This education should aim at giving skills and attitudes. It is desirable that the World Health Organization take the necessary desirable steps for promoting such a programme in the Schools of Medicine.

8. Each government should give financial support to the agencies concerned with the training of first-aid personnel and the education of the public in the field of prevention, health and survival. Education of community groups should be encouraged. Providing support for such training and education programmes in disaster-prone countries would constitute a valuable type of assistance.

IV. Prevention, forecast and warning

With respect to the prevention and prior notification of disasters, the Seminar has stressed a number of points which should be considered for action.

1. It is now possible to predict several types of disasters with sufficient time-lag to enable countermeasures to be taken. In particular, radar systems and satellites make provision of adequate warning of typhoons and hurricanes considerably easier. This, however, requires a network of stations adequately equipped and appropriately staffed with trained personnel, spread around the world and with adequate means for communication and cooperation.

2. Identification of warning signs is an extremely sophisticated task which, besides highly specialized personnel, requires close cooperation between adjacent countries belonging to the same meteorological area.

3. It is great importance that all governments, through their national meteorological services, should cooperate fully with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and particularly the World Weather Watch (WWW), on the scientific, financial and technical levels.

4. With the assistance of WMO, the governments from the same meteorological area should cooperate in the evaluation of meteorological data.

5. In order to achieve the aim of an adequate forecast system, governments should provide, through grants, loans, equipment and personnel, assistance to those countries whose resources are still insufficient to finance their own stations or train their own national personnel.

6. Each government should designate an official authority responsible for forecasting and warning.

7. It is highly desirable that warning of a threatening disaster be given not only to the countries likely to be affected by the disaster, but also to those countries which may be able to provide assistance, in order to speed up the mobilization of resources for quick relief.

8. Warning and notification of the populations exposed to a threatening disaster should be regarded as a comprehensive communication system. It is not enough to give notification; it is necessary to make sure that the warning is understood and appropriate action is taken. Warning system should therefore take into account the reactions which are expected from the population, these being closely linked with the local cultural patterns.

9. It seems urgent to carry on the appropriate sociological studies in disaster-prone countries in order to design efficient warning systems or to modify existing ones. Such studies on the perception of hazards in populations and the reactions of these populations to warnings could be more easily carried on in universities, for those have more freedom than official bodies for reviewing the present situation.

10. It is suggested that the November 1970 disaster in the Bay of Bengal be analysed by those participants in this Seminar who were personally engaged in relief operations on that occasion.

V. Priorities

With respect to priorities in the event of natural disasters, the Seminar stressed the following points:

1. Aid in cash

Supplies and equipment required for relief may often be obtained in the disaster-stricken country or in neighbouring countries. In this case, immediate provision of funds constitutes a valuable and at the same time speedy and quite flexible type of assistance.

Consideration should therefore be given to governments and voluntary agencies making the necessary arrangements for providing, on a larger scale than is at present the case, funds in convertible currencies which are immediately available on the spot, provision being made for subsequent verification of the use to which they are put.

2. Telecommunications

a. The International Telecommunications Union has made plans for building portable emitters relayed by satellites. The cost of such a system is estimated at one million dollars. In view of the utmost importance of telecommunications in the event of disasters, governments should give a high priority to the study of this programme.

b. Since it is important that those transmitters whose construction is under consideration by ITU be compatible with other equipment provided for relief operations, close cooperation should be established between all the agencies concerned.

c. National administrations responsible for communications, such as the PTT, are for various reasons concerned with natural disasters. It is suggested that these administrative bodies take action at the regional level (for example C.E.P.T.A., the Conference of European Postal and Telecommunications Administration), and later at the ITU level, in order to persuade ITU to take the opportunity of one of its meetings to decide on a world basis the allocation of special frequencies to relief teams and to people involved in relief activities in case of natural disasters.

d. In cooperation with the League of Red Cross Societies and United Nations, ITU should constitute a team of specialists which could be called on in a matter of hours.

e. On the basis of what has already been achieved in some countries, it is desirable that the administrations of disaster-prone countries coordinate in anticipation the assistance provided by radio-hams by granting them privileges in order to facilitate their activities.

3. Transportation

The delay in providing rescue supplies and services is of the utmost importance for the efficiency of rescue. Transport from the airport nearest the disaster area to the actual site is a critical point in the logistics of rescue.

a. Governments should therefore take adequate measures for making available immediately and without any delay to the agencies in charge of rescue and relief, the appropriate planes and helicopters, including spare parts, crews and maintenance personnel, as well as cargo planes for transporting the personnel and equipment.

b. It would be useful if governments ready to provide helicopters would consult each other in order to standardize equipment, with a view to pooling stocks of spares and maximizing efficiency in the use of crews and maintenance personnel.

4. Equipment for making relief teams self-sufficient

a. Relief teams should be entirely self-sufficient. They should never rely on the local resources of the disaster-stricken area.

b. Moreover, if amounts of supplies and equipment requested for the relief teams proper are generously calculated (such as shelters, blankets, power generators, water pumps, filters, cooking equipment, food and medical kits), they would be useful for the disaster-stricken population once assistance has been completed.