Better understanding of disaster impact on lives needed

Thursday, 27 January 2011 00:20 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Johannesburg (IRIN): In 2010, five of the most devastating disasters, measured in loss of lives, goods and infrastructure, occurred in Asia. Investing in disaster planning could go a long way to keeping the number of casualties down, experts said.

“Disasters in Asia are largely due to floods and, in the second instance, storms. I think there is an awareness building up for flood management, as agricultural crops are frequently destroyed, as well as infrastructure, but not enough,” said Debarati Guha-Sapir, Director of the Belgium-based Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).

Poor evidence of the impact of a natural disaster on human lives and livelihoods at micro-level on was a major reason why governments were not proactive about disaster risk reduction, said Guha-Sapir. For instance, there was a lack of understanding of the short-term and long-term impacts of a flood on a village.

A recent study by CRED in Orissa, a flood-prone province in India, showed that children in flood-affected villages suffered significantly higher levels of chronic malnutrition compared to similar equally poor children in villages that had escaped flooding.

The international aid community, with their focus on the short-term response to disasters, was partly to blame, Guha-Sapir said

She suggested that in instances where countries were unable to strengthen the response at a local level, international and national aid agencies should try to empower communities to better cope with disaster.

“It’s critical for local governments, city leaders and their partners to incorporate climate change adaptation in urban planning,” Margareta Wahlström, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Disaster Reduction, said in a statement.

“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.” It was “no longer optional”, she noted.

Earthquakes, floods, a heat-wave and cold-wave were among the 373 natural disasters recorded in 2010. Together, they killed over 296,800 people, affected nearly 208 million others, and cost almost US$110 billion, said CRED.

Natural hazards in China and Pakistan accounted for more than US$ 27 billion worth of damage and nearly 8,500 fatalities.

Earthquakes in China killed 2,968 people in April 2010, and 1,691 people died in floods between May and August. A further 1,765 were killed by mudslides, landslides or rock falls, triggered by heavy rains and flooding in August.

In Pakistan nearly 2,000 people died in floodwater that covered one-fifth of the land after torrential rains pelted the northwest, swelling the Indus and its tributaries from July to August in 2010.

An earthquake in Haiti killed over 222,500 people in January, and a heat wave in the Russian summer caused around 56,000 fatalities, making 2010 the deadliest year in at least two decades.

CRED also highlighted the anomalies in measuring losses because of the enormous economic differences.

“Haiti, which led the list with by far the highest numbers of deaths, fell to the fourth place in the rank of the economic damage list,” said Guha-Sapir. Chile, which was hit by an earthquake in February 2010 and had the seventh highest number of fatalities, climbed to the top of the list of countries suffering financial losses.

“This is a good example of the inadequacy of how we measure losses, as human lives are not included in this measure. Also, as property values in Chile are much higher than in Haiti and insurance penetration is higher, the losses are also higher.”