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Disasters cost $366 billion in 2011: UN
by Staff Writers
Geneva (AFP) Jan 18, 2012

Natural disasters such as the huge earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan caused a record $366 billion (285 million euros) damage in 2011, the UN disaster risk reduction agency UNISDR said on Wednesday.

A total of 29,782 people were killed in 302 disasters last year, the body said.

Storms and floods accounted for up to 70 percent of catastrophes but earthquakes were the biggest killer.

Figures released by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction showed quakes claimed 20,943 lives, most of them in Japan.

The earthquake and tsunami that sparked the Fukushima nuclear plant catastrophe in March was also the costliest disaster, causing damage worth $210 billion.

This was followed by the floods that hit Thailand from August to December which cost the country $40 billion.

The number of disasters was down on 2010, when 385 occurred, according to CRED figures.

However 2011 practically saw a tripling in costs from $123.9 billion recorded in the previous 12 months.

CRED director Debarati Guha-Sapir said: "It was notable last year that many of the disasters were in high and middle-income countries which have the resources for better disaster prevention."

In addition to the Japan earthquake, the centre cited the floods in Brazil in January, the quake that hit New Zealand in February, and Hurricane Irene in the United States in August and September.

The Brazil floods were the deadliest in the country's history, taking 900 lives.

Other major disasters included the October earthquake in Turkey and the tropical storm Sendong that hit the Philippines last month, claiming 1,430 lives.

This was the second highest death toll for disasters in 2011 after the 19,846 who died in Japan.

"The Japan earthquake and the accompanying tsunami is a reminder to us all that we cannot afford to ignore the lessons of history no matter how forgotton," said UNISDR chief Margareta Wahlstrom.

"The many major cities located in seismic zones need to take seriously the probability of return events even if many years have passed since the last seismic event of major magnitude.

"Unless we prepare for the worst, then many earthquake-prone urban areas around the world are destined to see even greater loss of life in the future as more and more people move to cities."

In total 206 million people were affected by disasters last year. This includes 106 million hit by floods and 60 million by drought, mainly in the Horn of Africa.

Guha-Sapir said droughts and famines were rarely "spectacular" events but caused a massive number of deaths which often went uncounted.

"Reliable statistics and data should be a priority for better and more timely preventative action," the expert said.

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