2010 was one of the deadliest years for natural disasters in the past two decades and unless better preparations are put in place now, many more disasters can be expected in years to come, the UN’s top disaster reduction official said today.
Some 373 natural disasters claimed the lives of more than 296,800 people last year, affecting nearly 208 million and costing nearly $110 billion, according to annual data compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) of the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium, and supported by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), the UN body charged with helping coordinate efforts to achieve substantive reduction in disaster losses and build resilient nations and communities.
“These figures are bad, but could be seen as benign in years to come,” said the head of UNISDR and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström. “Unless we act now, we will see more and more disasters due to unplanned urbanization and environmental degradation. And weather-related disasters are sure to rise in the future, due to factors that include climate change.”
According to the report, the 12 January earthquake in Haiti killed more than 222,500 people, while the Russian summer heat wave caused about 56,000 fatalities – making 2010 the year with the highest disaster-related casualties in at least two decades.
Currently, moderate to strong La Niña conditions are well-established in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and are likely to continue until the first quarter of this year, according to the El Niño/La Niña update issued recently by the UN World Meteorological Organization, the report notes. El Niño is a large-scale warming of water in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean every three to five years and can last up to 18 months, while La Niña refers to the large-scale cooling of the ocean temperatures in the same region.
La Niña is thought to be linked to the floods and landslides that occurred in Colombia last year, and more recently the floods in Queensland, Australia, triggered by rains that began in late December.
“It’s critical for local governments, city leaders and their partners to incorporate climate change adaptation in urban planning,” Ms. Wahlström said, stressing that disaster risk reduction was no longer optional. “What we call ‘disaster risk reduction’ – and what some are calling ‘risk mitigation’ or ‘risk management’ – is a strategic and technical tool for helping national and local governments to fulfil their responsibilities to citizens.”
According to CRED’s data, for the first time, the Americas became the world’s worst affected continents in terms of fatalities, with 75 per cent of total deaths caused by the earthquake in Haiti. Europe was the region with the second highest number of deaths, with the heat wave in Russia accounting for nearly a fifth of 2010’s total fatalities. Other extreme climate events in Europe included Storm Xynthia last February, floods in France in June and the extreme winter conditions all over Europe throughout December.
Asia experienced fewer disaster-related deaths with 4.7 per cent of total fatalities, but remained the region most prone to natural disasters. An estimated 89 per cent of the total number of people affected by natural disasters last year resided in Asia.
Five of the ten most deadly disasters occurred in China, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Earthquakes killed almost 3,000 people in China in April and 530 people in Indonesia in October. Between May and August, floods killed more than 1,500 people in China, and another 1,765 were killed by mudslides, landslides or rock fall triggered by heavy rainfall and floods in August. Nearly 2,000 people were killed by the massive floods in Pakistan.
Floods and landslides during the summer in China are estimated to have cost $18 billion in losses, while flood-related destruction in Pakistan was estimated at $9.5 billion. The Haiti earthquake caused damage worth $8 billion, according to the CRED data. The costliest event in 2010, however, was the earthquake in Chile in February, with damages valued at $30 billion.
The other two years when natural disasters caused higher losses were 2005, when damages from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma alone amounted to $139 billion; and 2008, when the earthquake in Sichuan, China, caused $86 billion worth of damages, a figure than brought the total losses for that year to about $200 billion.