Natural Disasters Hit Record in 2005

WASHINGTON, DC, October 12, 2006 (ENS) - The world suffered record economic losses from natural disasters in 2005, which killed more than 90,000 people and affected the lives of more than 150 million, the World Bank reported Wednesday. The new report from the international financial and development organization warns that the impacts from natural disasters will continue to increase unless governments develop comprehensive hazard approaches to better mitigate and reduce disaster risks.

The study "Natural Disaster Hotspots: Case Studies" was compiled by the World Bank and Columbia University and found that the 360 natural disasters in 2005 caused $159 billion in damages - a 71 percent increase over the total losses in 2004. Hurricane Katrina alone caused $125 billion of the economic losses in 2005, the report said.

According to the report, the impacts of population and economic growth, rapid urbanization, environmental degradation, and climate change are a few of the factors that will continue to fuel increasing damages from natural disasters unless something is done to reduce disaster risks.

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A boy in Klaten, Central Java clears debris from his family's home following the 2005 earthquake, which rocked a region struggling to recover from a massive tsnumani only months earlier. (Photo by Margaret Arnold courtesy World Bank)

"Natural hazards and their impacts will continue to evolve throughout the 21st Century due to changing socioeconomic conditions, coastal land use, and climatic risks," said Katherine Sierra, World Bank vice president for sustainable development. "These reports, which provide the most comprehensive, accurate data of multi-hazard hotspots to date, can help improve disaster risk assessment globally and locally."

The case studies released Wednesday examine three specific hazards - landslides, storm surges and drought - as well as regional multi-hazard situations in Sri Lanka, the Tana River basin in Kenya, and the city of Venezuelan city of Caracas.

The report finds that drought ranks as the natural hazard with the greatest negative impact on human livelihood. It includes the first comprehensive assessment of landslides at the global scale along with information on sea surges, which are the main killer associated with storms. Storm surges have led to several million deaths over the past two centuries, primarily in Asia and Bangladesh.

The case study for Sri Lanka addressed hazards related to droughts, floods, landslides and cyclones. It found drought posed the greatest risk in terms of people affected and relief provided.

The Kenyan study ocused on sustainable flood preparedness to improve protection against any future flood events, specifically targeting local communities that live along the riverine and flood plains in the Tana River and Garissa districts.

In the worst-case scenario, pastoralists and dry riverine communities are expected to experience the worst losses. The study determined that assistance should take the form of free food distribution and income generating activities, as the analysis has shown that for all of the groups, income, daily food consumption, and nutrition are tied to livestock and crop production, both of which may completely collapse in any flood scenario.

The northern Venezuelan city of Caracas lies in an area prone to extreme seismological hazards, but the city also faces frequent heavy rainfall events. The case study detailed a strategic planning process, designed to identify the city's ability to cope with the forces of nature. In order to accomplish this, certain critical facilities (for example, the Caracas-Vargas highway) were identified based on their importance both during and after a potential natural disaster.

"Taken together, the global analysis and case studies provide strong evidence of the importance of employing proactive, comprehensive approaches in disaster risk management," said Margaret Arnold, World Bank senior program officer and disaster specialist. "Given resource constraints and the multiple roles played by key infrastructure - such as roads, railroads, and ports in disaster preparedness, emergency response, reconstruction, and ongoing economic activity - it is vital that planners and decision makers at all levels have a sound appreciation of the hazards prevalent in their specific regions on concern, along with associated vulnerabilities."

Arnold added that governments need to understand the "the potential interactions among these hazards, whether direct - for example, storms that initiate both floods and landslides - or indirect - such as consecutive hazards that deplete natural resources and strain response capacities."

In addition to the report and case studies, the World Bank has launched a new Web site to complement its findings.