Asia-Pacific ‘most disaster-prone’: UN

It has released a report showing natural disasters have killed half a million people in Asia and the Pacific over the past decade.

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The UN says most of these incidents are also cross-border, such as the earthquake in Afghanistan earlier this week which also affected Pakistan and other neighbouring countries.

Achieving sustainable development will be difficult, says the UN, if the region does not address these risks.

The 2015 Asia-Pacific disaster report, released by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), shows the region is the most disaster-prone in the world.

During the past decade, the Asia-Pacific region was struck by 1,625 disasters.

They killed half a million people and caused $733 billion (US$523bn) in economic damage.

The region also suffered 40 per cent of all the world’s disasters, 60 per cent of it deaths, and 80 per cent of the overall number of people affected.

However the study describes these figures as very conservative, calling them “gross underestimates”, and warning that there is no standard methodology for collecting disaster statistics.

The report says based on present trends, by the year 2030 economic losses in the region could average $224 billion (US$160 bn) each year.

Chief of the Policy and Analysis Branch from the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), David O’Connor, is not surprised.

 

“If we look at the economic damages from disasters in the region, we see that they have been on the rise and that’s not surprising of course because not only are more populations exposed through the developments of these coastal and deltaic cities… But also, as economies develop, more and more valuable infrustructure, more and more economic assets are exposed to the damages of major storms or earthquakes or other forms of disaster.”

 

The UN’s disaster risk reduction agency (UNISDR) says security concerns can be an obstacle to implementing so-called risk management initiatives in places like Afghanistan.

 

Spokesman Denis McClean says that they are much more likely to succeed if top government officials play their part.

 

“The main challenge in terms of avoiding a repetition of the kind of mortality figures that we’re seeing emerging from Afghanistan, the main challenge is to get political commitment towards disaster risk management. To have it elevated to a sufficiently high level in government that local governments and other actors pay serious attention to these issues.”

 

The disaster report has found the most frequent disasters were floods and storms.

Storms killed about 170,000 people and floods killed about 40,000.

Last week, Typhoon Koppu sent heavy rains and powerful winds to the northern Philippines, destroying crops, damaging roads and bridges, and displacing thousands.

But the managing director of crisis planning and training business Crisis Ready, Peter Rekers, says disaster preparedness has helped prevent further losses.

 

“Certainly public communication has become a growing centre of attention, I guess. More and more agencies are looking at it. Recently in the Philippines, the typhoon that went through there, they’re attributing a lot of the success, if you like, of the operation to public communications: better understanding of warnings and better understanding of what phrases like tidal surge means. It’s really important to communicate those sorts of things really well.”

 

The UN’s report attributes reduced death tolls from cyclones in Bangladesh to early warnings and preparedness.

It says a category 3 storm in 1970 killed 300,000 people there, compared to the 4,000 deaths from a category 5 storm in 2007.

Mr Rekers says governments in the region need to invest more in disaster prevention and preparedness.

 

“Most agencies are spending much less than one per cent of their budget around public communications. It’s clear that it’s a growing area of concern and interest and certainly attention but the budgets aren’t being transferred there. So I think governments need to be thinking a lot more and putting money toward public communication to make these departments work much better.”