Last year, 42 million people worldwide were forced to flee their homes because of natural disasters, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported two weeks ago. The worst year on record, 2010 saw problems worldwide, with 15 million forced to leave their homes in China and 11 million in Pakistan because of flooding.

This year’s disasters are already piling up, with cyclones, earthquakes and floods on every continent.

The number of people displaced in 2010 was more than double the 17 million displaced in 2009 by natural disasters such as the floods in China and Pakistan and earthquakes in Chile and Haiti. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, stated that issues of climate related to displacement is one of the most important challenges of our times. Sensible planning is needed before the next disaster.

In Japan, 590,000 people had to leave their homes after the Tohoku-Pacific earthquake and tsunami, with 210,000 evacuated because of radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, according to the United Nations.

The task of taking care of people was overwhelming in Japan. Despite some preparations, the scale of the crisis was larger than anyone imagined. However, that is the duty and obligation of governments and agencies — to prepare for the unimaginable.

Causes of the worldwide disasters are varied and open to debate. Some document how global warming causes severe weather while others note how unpredictable certain disasters remain. Whatever the causes, Japan and all other countries need to have effective plans. Disasters will not go away, so now is the time to learn from past experience to prepare for the future.

Most importantly, Japan could help facilitate global coordination for natural disasters. Initially, after the Tohoku quake and tsunami, Japan was slow in accepting offers of help from some countries, although it gradually accepted relief organizations and search teams. A greater degree of international cooperation would have been better.

The good will of working together is one of the best preparations for the future. No country can be expected to handle massive problems alone.

A network of aid exchange for times of unpredictable disaster is one of the best insurance policies any country can have. Japan should work toward that goal both domestically and abroad, since the one thing that all humanity shares is the need for help during a crisis.

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