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Disasters cost $380 billion in 2011, says UN
by Staff Writers
United Nations (AFP) March 5, 2012

Disasters led by the Japan earthquake cost the world a record figure of more than $380 billion last year, a UN official said Monday.

While countries are managing to control the disaster death toll, economic costs are increasing more than ever before, said Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN special envoy on disaster risk reduction.

She called the $380 billion figure "the minimum" cost, two thirds higher than the last record in 2005 when the United States suffered huge losses from Hurricane Katrina.

This time, earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, as well as floods in Thailand and other countries sent the cost skyrocketing. "Earthquakes are the costliest and the deadliest of disasters," Wahlstrom told a press conference to mark the first anniversary of the Japan quake on March 11 last year.

The quake, tsunami and nuclear explosion at Fukushima caused more than $210 billion of damage, according to the UN disaster risk reduction agency headed by Walhstrom.

It has put the cost of the Thailand floods at more than $40 billion.

New Zealand's central bank has estimated that the deadly earthquake on February 22 last year caused about $25 billion in losses, just for rebuilding.

"The main message is that this is an increasing and very rapidly increasing trend, with increasingly economic losses," Wahlstrom said.

"Globally, the disaster mortalities are proportionally declining because countries are getting much better at early warning systems and preparedness," she said. "But the economics of disasters is becoming a major threat to a number of countries."

From 1999 to 2011, 45,400 miles (73,000 kilometers) of roads were ripped apart by disasters in just 19 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Wahlstrom said. Almost 64,000 schools were destroyed in the same time.

Fifty percent of the world's seven billion people are now exposed to disaster risks because they live in vulnerable areas, according to the UN official.

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Snow cuts powerlines, blocks trains in northern France
Lille, France (AFP) March 5, 2012 - Heavy snowfalls cut powerlines in northern France on Monday, blocking trains and leaving some 140,000 homes without electricity.

High-speed trains in and out of Lille experienced serious delays in the afternoon and evening, the national SNCF railway service said.

Further north, around Douai, Lens, Hazebrouck, and Bethune, the electricity company EDF said it was struggling to repair powerlines.

The Lille-Lesquin airport was also closed for a few hours in the middle of the day because of heavy snow.


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Japanese monk guards remains of tsunami unknown
Yamamoto, Japan (AFP) March 3, 2012
Hundreds of the 19,000 people killed by Japan's horrific quake-tsunami remain unmourned, their bodies never claimed because there is no one left to notice they have gone. But one Buddhist monk has lovingly stored the ashes and bones of some of those whose names no one knows in the hope that one day they can be reunited with their families. Every day for the last year, Ryushin Miyabe has ... read more

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