Natural disasters will affect millions more, UN predicts

More people are becoming vulnerable to natural disasters as the number of these incidents increase all around the world, a UN agency has stated this week.

Over 254 million people were affected by natural disasters last year, which is three times as many as in 1990, according to figures released jointly by the UN and the University of Louvain’s Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).

The UN’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) put this sharp increase down to the effects of global warming.

This statement comes days after the southern states of America and the Carribean have been battered by a series of hurricanes, and weeks after the UK has suffered serious flooding incidents (see related story).

Director of ISDR, Salvano Briceno, said people were becoming more vulnerable because more were compelled to move to high-risk urban areas in search of better economic prospects.

“Urban migrants settle in exposed stretches of land either on seismic faults, flooding plains or on landslide prone slopes. The urban concentration, the effects of climate change and the environmental degradation are greatly increasing vulnerability,” Mr Briceno said. “Alarmingly, this is getting worse.”

A report from the UN’s Human Settlements Programme (HABITAT) indicated that two billion people will live in slums by 2020, and over five billion people (mainly in the developing world) will live in cities by 2025.

Approximately 70 out of the 100 biggest cities in the world are located in risk prone areas. Therefore, according to HABITAT, if hazard struck any of those cities, the potential for disasters could be huge.

“We won’t ever stop natural hazards,” added Mr Briceno. “But the world needs to find better ways to cope with disasters.”

He said that using development programmes such as better education, land use planning and environmental management were the only way to reduce the vulnerability of the world’s populations.

By Jane Kettle

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