Economic risks of disasters soar over $1.5 trillion: UN

10th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

More than $1.5 trillion of the world's wealth is exposed to harm from natural disasters, as the economic risks soar despite signs that efforts to reduce the human toll are working, the UN said Tuesday.

A report for a biennial UN conference on disaster risk that opened here estimated that the amount of global GDP exposed to harm by disasters had nearly tripled from $525.7 billion 40 years ago to $1.58 trillion.

Meanwhile, the risk of economic losses in wealthy (OECD) countries due to floods has increased by 160 percent over the past 30 years, while for tropical cyclones the risk has grown by 262 percent, the report estimated.

"The risk of losing wealth in disasters is actually increasing faster than that wealth is being created," said Andrew Maskrey, coordinator of the 2011 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction.

"Losses from disasters are often at least as great as those a country is experiencing through high inflation or armed conflict for example," Maskrey told journalists.

About 2,000 experts from around the world are attending the four-day conference.

It includes a discussion spearheaded by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on preparations for nuclear accidents, following the destruction wrought by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan on the Fukushima-Daiichi atomic plant.

The report by the UN's disaster reduction unit said the damage inflicted by mainly natural disasters on housing, infrastructure and public assets such as schools and hospitals was "soaring in many low and middle income countries."

Maskrey suggested that the costs were growing largely because prevention or mitigation measures -- such as land planning in hazard areas or resistant housing, schools or hospitals -- were failing to keep pace with faster and broader economic growth.

In one example, the United Nations estimated that the amount of disaster losses absorbed by each Mexican government in power since 1982 has doubled from an average of $10 billion to $20 billion.

The report also reiterated warnings about growing pattern of extreme weather events that has been linked to climate change.

The average number of annually reported disasters caused by tropical cyclones during the last four decades has tripled, and spans a bigger range of countries, according to the report.

However, the UN for the first time predicted a downward trend for mortality in weather-related disasters, especially in East Asia, despite sprawling population growth in flood plains or exposed coastlines.

"I think we're now seeing the fruits both of improved development conditions in many countries as well as improvements in disaster preparedness, response and early warning systems," Maskrey said.

Nonetheless, many governments admitted in a UN survey that they were having trouble applying disaster reduction measures, such as land planning, safe building codes or investing in stabilising slopes, while they developed.

"This is really where the world is falling down," said Maskrey, explaining that the vast majority of governments still baulked at longer term planning for the risk of a disaster that could happen every few decades rather than years.

© 2011 AFP

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