The sheer scope of the socio-economic impacts of natural disasters has brought about a shift in the political approach to dealing with the concept of risk in modern societies. As a result, the international community has recognised the need to shift towards pro-active remedies.
While the consequences of most natural disasters are generally confined to one or a few countries or to even smaller areas, some may affect large parts or even the whole of the planet. The debris from very large volcanic eruptions, for example, can spread around the entire globe, and the El NiÃ±o phenomenon can have effects many thousands of kilometres away from the region in the Pacific Ocean where it originates.
The increasing frequency and intensity of natural and man-made disasters clearly demonstrate the need for enhanced disaster preparedness at both the national and international levels. The ability to manage crises is critically dependent on the availability of information linked in national networks, and a rapid, coordinated response.
The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in his opening remarks to the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction Programme Forum in July 1999 affirmed: "We must, above all, shift from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention. The humanitarian community does a remarkable job in responding to disasters. But the most important task in the medium and long term is to strengthen and broaden programmes, which reduce the number and cost of disasters in the first place. Prevention is not only more humane than the cure, it is also much cheaper."< The UN has established a global platform, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), to enable all communities to withstand the effects of natural disasters and to proceed from the protection against hazards to the management of risk through the integration of risk prevention into sustainable development. The continuing challenge is to find means by which collective participation and multidisciplinary assessment relevant to risk and environmental management becomes a reality.