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Need to change our approach in dealing with world's natural disasters, says Red Cross

Haiti Source: AAP

The Red Cross is calling for a change in the approach to the world's natural disasters, ranging from the recent storms across Australia to Hurricane Matthew hitting the Americas.

The Red Cross is calling for a change in the approach to the world's natural disasters, ranging from the recent storms across Australia to Hurricane Matthew hitting the Americas.

Releasing its World Disasters Report, the charity organisation says the focus needs to be on prevention and resilience, rather than clean-up and recovery.

The report says disasters killed more than 32,000 people across the world last year, including 16 Australians, and affected 108 million people worldwide.

The Red Cross says natural disasters are becoming bigger and more frequent, partly as a result of climate change and more people living in dangerous places.

It is urging governments, businesses, local communities and humanitarian groups to work together on disaster resilience so people can bounce back faster from devastating events.

Australian Red Cross emergencies director Noel Clement says investing in disaster-risk reduction saves lives and money - "That's investing more upfront to save billions of dollars and the impact on lives after a disaster. There's great evidence in this report, and a series of other reports, that every dollar invested in disaster-risk reduction actually saves about $10 in recovery. So we believe it's time to reshift that balance."

The report found, during 2015, there were 574 disasters, including two devastating earthquakes in Nepal where more than 9,000 people died.

The damage bill from the earthquakes, floods, landslides and heatwaves was more than $92 billion.

The Asia Pacific region had the most disasters, accounting for 43 per cent of the world's total and three out of five disaster-related deaths.

Mr Clement says, while the Red Cross primarily acts as an agency of first response after a disaster, it would like to put more energy into preparedness -  "We're a humanitarian organisation. Our focus is on the impact of these things on people. Absolutely, our efforts go to how we can support people in their recovery, and we will continue to do that. What we are saying is that we would rather shift our focus to more of that preparedness work so that communities are less impacted by that disaster and we're not just spending all of our efforts at the end."

In Australia, more than 8-and-a-half-thousand people were affected by disasters, including the Sampson Flat bushfire in the Adelaide Hills.

That was the worst fire to hit South Australia since the 1983 Ash Wednesday blaze.

The Red Cross says disaster preparation needs to become normalised.

Tracey Pannell's house in Tasmania was badly damaged in a bushfire three years ago.

She told the A-B-C, while she and her husband saved their property, flames came within 50 metres of their home, a situation she says they could have avoided - "I think, until you are actually faced with it, you actually don't think about. It's no different to anything in life. We're all busy, and we don't think it will happen to us. And once it does, it's just a reminder, and you will never forget to be prepared."

Dr Amisha Mehta is a senior lecturer with the School of Business at the Queensland University of Technology.

Her research has focused on the effectiveness of crisis communication in disaster management.

She says Australia's emergency-management sector is successful at articulating instructions when a natural disaster occurs but challenges remain - "One of the challenges is that there are multiple sources of information, of knowledge, from the Bureau of Meteorology to specific emergency-management agencies, and the community research we have done is that communities really want to hear information from one source and consistently. So the challenge is, 'The information is there, but what is the best way to get it to the community so they can respond?'"

Mr Clement says better building codes, urban planning and infrastructure are also crucial to help reduce exposure to future hazards - "We're very keen to work with all parties, really, to understand how we can do this differently. We believe that governments across Australia also want to be able to do things differently, so it's about imagining different approaches to managing natural disaster, and we stand ready to play our part."