Reuters, June 12, 2009
BONN - Climate change will aggravate natural disasters and people in developing nations such as Dominica, Vanuatu, Myanmar and Guatemala are most at risk, a U.N.-backed study showed on Thursday.
It urged governments to invest hundreds of billions of dollars to curb mounting impacts of hazards such as cyclones, floods, droughts, landslides, earthquakes and tsunamis.
"Risk is ... felt most acutely by people living in poor rural areas and slums," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in the report, issued on the sidelines of June 1-12 U.N. climate talks in Bonn working on a new treaty to combat global warming.
"Climate change will magnify the uneven distribution of risk, skewing disaster impacts even further towards poor communities in developing countries," the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction said.
Andrew Maskrey, lead author of the report, said that developing countries with big populations -- led by China, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia -- suffered the most fatalities from natural disasters.
"But you also have to look at it in relative terms -- the proportion of the population at risk," he told a news conference. By that yardstick, those at risk were "mainly small countries -- many small islands ... and small countries."
The list was topped by Dominica in the Caribbean, Vanuatu in the Pacific along with Myanmar and Guatemala.
In those nations, risks of an individual dying from cyclones, floods, earthquakes or landslides were close to one in 10,000 per year. The survey did not account for risks of droughts, which would have boosted hazards for African states.
According to the report, the safest places to avoid natural disasters include Saudi Arabia, Oman, Belgium and Britain.
"Wealthier countries are not immune, as bush fires in Australia reminded us so tragically at the start of this year," Ban wrote.
"Risk is increasing globally even without climate change," the report said, largely because of a rising global population with people living in vulnerable areas such as flood plains.
The number of people living in squatter settlement -- most exposed to risks such as storms or floods -- was 1 billion and rising by 25 million a year.
Illustrating risks in developing nations, Maskrey said 17 times as many people died in the Philippines from cyclones than in Japan, even though the number of people living in vulnerable areas was similar.
And he said governments should take more account of disaster planning.
Converting mangroves into shrimp farms could make coasts more vulnerable to storm surges, he said. Draining wetlands to build houses curbs the ability of soils to regulate floods. Deforestation loosened soil and added to risks of landslides.
Needed investments to disaster-proof economies totalled hundreds of billions of dollars, he told Reuters.
"Often poor countries say 'we can't afford disaster risk reduction'," he said. His advice was "rather than build 100 schools which will fall down in the next cyclone or earthquake, build 80 to disaster risk standards."
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