Asia hardest-hit by disasters in 2007, group says
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - Asia was hardest-hit by natural disasters last year that worldwide killed more than 16,500 people and caused $62.5 billion in damage, a U.N.-backed research group said on Friday.
There was also a marked increase in the number of floods in 2007, a trend the Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters said reflected the threat posed by global warming.
Eight of the worst 10 disasters last year struck Asia. Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh in November claimed the highest toll of 4,234 lives, according to the Belgium-based centre.
"There were no real mega-disasters in 2007, which is the good news, but economic losses were higher than the year before," Debarati Guha-Sapir, centre director, told a news conference in Geneva.
"We see more extreme events overall, not geological ones like earthquakes and volcano eruptions, but very many more windstorms and floods," she said.
Scientists warn that climate change, blamed mainly on human emissions of so-called greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, will bring extreme weather including more heatwaves, droughts, floods and rising seas in coming years.
"Current trends are consistent with the prediction of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, in that Asia and also West Africa are already suffering from more severe and frequent floods," Guha-Sapir said in a statement.
She said there was already a "significant increase" in floods in 2007, creating unsanitary conditions in which diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and cholera flourish.
The 206 recorded floods last year accounted for more than half of the world's 399 natural disasters. This compared with an annual average of 172 floods between 2000-2006.
Nearly 200 million people worldwide were affected by disasters last year, half of them in China, which suffered heavy floods last June-July, it said.
Losses from natural disasters amounted to $62.5 billion in 2007, up from $34 billion in 2006, Guha-Sapir said, partly due to rich countries suffering damage to costly insured structures.
An earthquake in Japan last July cost $12.5 billion and Europe's winter storm Kyrill caused $10 billion in damage, it said. Summer floods in Britain caused $8 billion in damage, while huge wildfires in California cost $2.5 billion.
"These figures are a reminder of what could have been saved if we had invested more in disaster risk reduction measures," said Salvano Briceno, director of the Geneva-based ISDR.
An ISDR spokeswoman said that for every dollar spent on disaster prevention, an estimated $4-7 could be saved in reconstruction costs.
In 2005, global economic losses from natural disasters soared to a record $225 billion, half of it stemming from damage from Hurricane Katrina in the United States.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jon Boyle)