Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Natural disasters exact huge toll on Asia

A submerged highway in a Philippine town hit by a typhoon last month. Weather-related disasters have grown more frequent over the last 20 years, claiming more than 600,000 lives, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction says in a report just released.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

by Raul Dancel:

Four of the world's most disaster- prone nations are in Asia, where more than 300,000 people have died from floods, storms, drought, earthquakes and tsunamis over the last 20 years, according to a report just released by the United Nations ahead of a critical climate change summit in Paris next week.

While the United States is the worst-hit country worldwide, with 472 weather-related disasters from 1995 till this year, the next four are all in Asia.

In its 30-page report, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction tallied 441 natural disasters in China, 288 in India, 274 in the Philippines and 163 in Indonesia. In total, there were 6,457 natural disasters over the last 20 years.

Since the first UN climate change conference in 1995, more than 600,000 people have died, while some four billion have been injured, displaced or in need of emergency help.

Economic losses were placed at between US$250 billion and US$300 billion per year.

"This report demonstrates that the world is paying a high price in lives lost," said Ms Margareta Wahlstrom, chief of the UN office.

Asia - with its large landmass, multiple river basins, floodplains and high population densities - has been the most devastated. At least 2,495 natural disasters have killed more than 332,000 in the region and affected some 3.7 billion from 1995 to 2015.

The worst disaster to hit Asia was Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar in 2008, leaving at least 138,000 dead. Nargis made Myanmar the world's deadliest in terms of natural disasters, with 139,325 people killed over a 20-year period. By comparison, the death toll in China was at 33,417.

The number of people affected by weather-related disasters peaked in 2002, when a drought in India hit 300 million people and a sandstorm in China affected 100 million.

Floods accounted for 47 per cent of all weather-related disasters, affecting about 2.3 billion people, nearly all of them in Asia. But typhoons were the most deadly type of disaster, killing 242,000, or 40 per cent of the world's total for weather-related disasters.

The UN report said the number of weather-related disasters had grown 14 per cent to 335 between 2005 and 2014, from 294 between 1995 and 2004, and almost twice from 1985 to 1994.

"While scientists cannot calculate what percentage of this rise is due to climate change, predictions of more extreme weather in future almost certainly mean that we will witness a continued upward trend in weather-related disasters in the decades ahead," it said.

Ms Wahlstrom said: "Climate change, climate variability and weather events pose a threat to the eradication of extreme poverty and should (help) hasten efforts not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to tackle other underlying risk drivers such as unplanned urban development, vulnerable livelihoods, environmental degradation and gaps in early warnings."

The report - titled The Human Cost Of Weather-Related Disasters - will be among the documents to be discussed during the climate conference in Paris.

"In the long term, an agreement in the coming climate change summit in Paris on reducing greenhouse emissions will be a significant contribution to reducing damage and loss from disasters, which are partly driven by a warming globe and rising sea levels," said Ms Wahlstrom.

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