Millions of natural disaster deaths could be averted by better preparedness –

The report – Reducing Disaster Risk: A Challenge for Development – prepared by a team of internationally recognized specialists led by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), is the most extensive study ever published of global trends in exposure, risk and vulnerability, UN experts say. It links vulnerability directly to poverty – “the real killer.” It analyzes global data from the past two decades and concludes that better planning backed by systematic risk analysis could avert much of the death and destruction caused by natural disasters in poor countries. “In a sense, this report is arguing that there is nothing natural about these disasters,” said Andrew Maskrey, co-author of the report and chief of UNDP’s Geneva-based Disaster Reduction Unit. “The impact of disasters can be sharply reduced if governments make an effort to reduce risk before a disaster happens, rather than rush to respond after the damage has been done.” Over the past two decades, 1.5 million people died in earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tropical storms, droughts and other “natural disasters,” yet with better preparedness many if not most of these lives could have been saved, according to the study. On average natural disasters cause 184 deaths per day, mainly in poor countries even when the incidence and intensity are the same as in wealthy nations. The report’s newly developed Disaster Risk Index provides clear proof of the link between poverty and vulnerability to such disasters, noting, “The real killer is poverty, not the forces of nature.” Only 11 per cent of the people exposed to natural hazards live in poor countries, but they account for more than 53 per cent of the total recorded deaths. The study urges governments to develop better understanding of the depth and extent of disaster hazards, use the best available risk analysis, incorporate such risks in regulatory procedures and include risk assessment in development planning. During the past two decades the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) had the highest annual per capita death rate from disasters (606 per million), followed by Mozambique (328), Armenia (324), Sudan (275) and Ethiopia (273), according to the study. The economic impact of these disasters can be devastating for populations living on the margins of society. In the 1990s, they set back development by $660 billion but the majority of these losses were concentrated in wealthier countries.

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