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Natural Disasters Killed 91,900 In 2005

AFP file photo of a downed electrical pole in Haiti after Tropical Storm Alpha. In the Caribbean hurricane season, ill-prepared Haiti regularly suffers a higher death toll than Cuba and Jamaica, which have widely-praised disaster plans.
by Staff Writers
Geneva (AFP) Jan 30, 2006
Natural disasters were on the rise last year, leaving tens of millions of people destitute and in need of aid, but they claimed fewer lives, a United Nations monitoring body said Monday.

The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) said it counted 360 natural disasters in 2005, including Hurricane Katrina in the United States and the devastating South Asian earthquake, compared to 305 a year earlier.

The overall death toll dropped to 91,900, with 73,338 of the dead in Pakistan's quake zone alone.

In 2004 the total was 244,500, of which 226,408 victims were from the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Without the tsunami, the number of disaster-related deaths has been largely falling over the decades, thanks in part to improved preparedness by governments in many vulnerable countries, the ISDR said.

It cited Bangladesh, where 300,000 lives were lost in the 1970 cyclone and which, thanks to warning systems and evacuation plans, has been able to reduce the toll in recent similar disasters into the low hundreds.

However, said ISDR chief Salvano Briceno, the falling death toll gives little cause for comfort.

The number of people affected by disasters last year climbed to 157 million, or seven million more than in 2004, continuing a two-decade climb, said the ISDR.

Professor Debarati Guha-Sapir, of the Belgium-based Centre for Disaster Epidemiology which conducts research for the ISDR, said: "Vulnerability is going up and larger groups of people are affected. Deaths are going down but it doesn't mean that the impact is."

While many rich countries have for years shown it is possible to reduce the impact of disasters -- such as earthquake-prone Japan, with its construction controls -- there are increasing concerns about the developing world's megacities, said Briceno.

"It's not the hazard that we need to focus on but on the fact that vulnerability is being created every day by building poorly, by locating people in risk areas," he said.

"That, coupled with the increasing environmental degradation and with the potential threat of global warming, means that although we are in the process of reducing the number of deaths, there is an increasing potential for greater disasters in the future."

"It can happen in Tehran, in Bombay, Shanghai, Jakarta, Bogota, Mexico City, Caracas. There are many megacities that are on seismic faults that can at any moment create a big disaster," he said.

There are stark differences in countries' ability to cope with catastrophe, Briceno noted.

In the Caribbean hurricane season, ill-prepared Haiti regularly suffers a higher death toll than Cuba and Jamaica, which have widely-praised disaster plans.

The same is true within individual countries, he added, comparing disaster-ready Florida with Louisiana, which suffered hardest from Hurricane Katrina.

Total disaster-related economic damage in 2005 reached 159 billion dollars, compared to 92.9 billion dollars a year earlier.

The economic data covers insured losses, and so mostly relates to the impact in richer countries, the ISDR noted. Hurricane Katrina inflicted 125 billion dollars of damage in the southern United States.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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