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Myanmar cyclone and China quake dominate 2008 toll

According to the UN, 84,476 people died in the earthquake that devastated a large area of southwest China in May, 2008. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Geneva (AFP) Jan 22, 2009
More than 90 percent of the 235,816 people killed worldwide in natural disasters last year succumbed during the cyclone in Myanmar or the earthquake in China's Sichuan province, the UN said Thursday.

The annual figures released by a United Nations think tank on disaster reduction showed that the global death toll from natural disasters last year was three times more than the average of the previous seven years.

It just fell short of the global toll of more than 241,000 recorded in 2004 after the Asian tsunami killed more than 220,000 in one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded.

The economic cost of disasters last year reached 181 billion dollars, the second largest annual tally on record since 2000.

Cyclone Nargis killed 138,366 when it struck Myanmar's coastline eight months ago, while another 84,476 people died in the earthquake that devastated a large area of southwest China in May, according to the UN.

"The dramatic increase in human and economic losses from disasters in 2008 is alarming," said the head of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, Salvano Briceno.

In both Myanmar and China many lives could have been saved if authorities there had been better prepared, he added.

"Sadly, these losses could have been substantially reduced if buildings in China, particularly schools and hospitals, had been built to be more earthquake-resilient," Briceno said.

"An effective early warning system with good community preparedness could have also saved many lives in Myanmar if it had been implemented before Cyclone Nargis."

Only two other of the 319 disasters on record last year had death tolls that exceeded 1,000: floods in India (1,963 dead) and a severe cold snap in Afghanistan.

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