Vietnam needs a more comprehensive legal framework on natural disaster risk management, a conference heard on July 19.

Speaking at the launch in Hanoi of the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, United Nations Development Programme's deputy country director Barnaby Jones said that disasters, such as the recent earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand and floods in Pakistan , had continued to affect the lives of millions of people around the world.

Although investment in early warning systems and preparedness for natural disasters could reduce human and property losses, Vietnam and other countries in the world still faced many challenges, he said.

The report showed that damage to houses, schools and other facilities was increasing, which had a serious impact on low-income households. The proportion of the world's GDP spent on tropical cyclones tripled from 1970 to 2010 to more than 1.9 trillion USD.

Natural disasters also had negative impacts on child welfare and caused internal displacement. Children were particularly vulnerable and girls seemed to suffer most. Report data showed less girls went to primary schools after extensive disaster events, pointing to the need for greater consideration of their vulnerabilities and needs.

The report also pointed out that drought could affect agricultural production and economic sectors, especially poor households yet there was insufficient understanding of the phenomenon.

Droughts usually occurs in Vietnam during September and April, causing the highest loss for the national economy next to storms and floods. Droughts in 2002 and 2005 in Vietnam caused a loss of up to 135 and 110 million USD respectively.

United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction co-ordinator Andrew Maskrey said Vietnam should comprehensively evaluate disaster risks, including disasters which occurred randomly, but which brought severe destruction, such as earthquakes and tsunami.

He suggested the introduction of a new risk management model which established a public investment plan and social welfare plan to manage the risks, promoted the community-based disaster risk management programme and enhanced the responsibilities of local authorities.

Figures from the report showed that Vietnam suffered an average annual loss of 457 people and economic loss equivalent to 1.3 percent per of GDP or 3.6 billion USD in 2010. Vietnam had a population of 90.5 million, more than 70 percent of which lived in low-lying river basins and coastal areas and at high risk from many natural hazards.

Vietnam was ranked 13th among 170 countries which were vulnerable to the impacts of climate change over the next 30 years and was one of 16 extreme risk countries.

There had been a clear rising trend in annual economic loss over the last decade, the report said.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Dao Xuan Hoc said Viet Nam , with international assistance, had step-by-step improved public awareness of natural disasters and skills to mitigate their effects.

Currently, the ministry was working with relevant agencies and localities to build a law on disaster risk prevention and reduction, which clearly defined roles of the Government to assure that citizens had access to information on disaster risks.

The ministry was also promoting the implementation of the community-based disaster risk management programme in 6,000 vulnerable communes by 2020, he said.

According to UN development programme experts, Vietnam 's Government should increase funding for natural risk management, such as insurance mechanisms for public assets, as well as to support affected low-income households.

Co-operation between the Government, organisations and local authorities would help these public investments become more effective and sustainable, the experts said.

Currently, the ministry's Disaster Management Centre was being supported to improve reporting and recording of disaster damage and what was required to improve Vietnam 's risk assessment. The Ministry of Planning and Investment was being assisted to introduce disaster risk reduction into the socio-economic development plan for the next five years (2011-15).

A national platform for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation will be established to encourage policy dialogue. /.