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Natural disasters made worse by human activity

Published on 20/05/2008

20 May 2008

GENEVA / BONN, GERMANY – The impact of man on the environment was a key factor in turning extreme weather events into greater natural disasters, a new report published Tuesday by the worldwide conservation group WWF found.

"It is deforestation and floodplain development that most often links high rainfall to devastating floods and mudslides," said Liza Higgins-Zogib of the WWF’s Protected Areas Initiative.

"Extreme coastal events cause much more loss of life and damage when reefs are damaged, mangroves are removed, dune systems are developed and coastal forests are cleared," she said.

The report Natural Security: Protected Areas and Hazard Mitigation, studied floods including cases in Bangladesh in 2000 and Europe in 2006, heat waves and forest fires in Portugal in 2003, an earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as well as Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005.

According to a World Bank report, in the last 50 years the severity of impacts from natural disasters had increased, due partly to the loss of healthy ecosystems in the regions affected.

The impact of tsunamis, for example, in the Indian Ocean varied from country to country, according to the extent of reef protection and remaining mangrove coverage, the report said.

The loss of floodplains in the Danube and tributaries had contributed to more frequent and regular floods.

The report was due to be published during the ongoing meeting of the Committee of Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany.

"While large-scale disasters cannot be entirely avoided, the report identifies specific ways we can mitigate the devastating impact of disasters through better ecosystem management," said Jonathan Randall of the WWF and co-author of Natural Security.

In one successful example, a USD 1.1-million-investment in mangrove replanting and other measures had saved Vietnamese communities an estimated USD 7.3 million a year in seawall maintenance.

The WWF called on governments to create suitable protected areas and to maintain natural ecosystems that might buffer against natural hazards.

[dpa / Expatica]