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Published 5th October 2006, 3:53pm

As Cayman prepares to join other countries in observing the International Day for Disaster Reduction (Wednesday, 11 October), the first message comes from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who stresses the need to respond to children’s needs.

The theme of this year’s observance of the International Day for Disaster Reduction, Disaster Risk Reduction Begins at School, highlights the need to keep our children safe and to involve them directly in our work to strengthen disaster preparedness.

Children are especially vulnerable to the threats posed by natural hazards. At the same time, they can be powerful agents of change, provided they are well armed with knowledge about how to prepare in advance, how to act on warnings and how to reduce risk at home and in their communities. It is essential, therefore, to make disaster-risk education a component of national school curricula, and to ensure that children understand how natural hazards interact with the environment. Young people should also be included in community risk-mapping exercises, and have opportunities to share experiences and best practices with others, including their peers. School buildings themselves should be fortified, so they can better withstand the forces of nature.

Over the last decade, disasters triggered by natural hazards have claimed more than 600,000 lives and affected more than 2.4 billion people, the majority of them in developing countries. Years of development gains have been lost, deepening poverty for millions and leaving them even more exposed to future natural hazards. Now more than ever, we must accelerate our efforts to reduce vulnerability.

Towards that end, the international community has committed itself to the priorities set out in the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the resilience of the nations and communities. The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) -- a global system encompassing a broad range of actors -- strives to improve coordination and mobilize resources. On this International Day for Disaster Reduction, I call on Governments and all relevant actors -- from teachers to businesses to civil society -- to respond to the needs of children and all other vulnerable populations in hazard-prone areas.