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1 Mar, 2015

Natural disasters in Asia-Pacific impact some 80 million people – UN study

BANGKOK, (UNESCAP media release) — In 2014, over half of the world’s 226 natural disasters occurred in the Asia and Pacific region. Although it was a year without a single large-scale catastrophe caused by an earthquake or tsunami, the region experienced severe storms, cross-border floods and landslides, which accounted for 85 percent of all disasters. In total, over 6,000 fatalities were caused by natural disasters, compared to 18,744 deaths in 2013. Approximately 79.6 million people were affected by natural disasters across the region.

Economic losses owing to natural disasters in 2014 also remained high, amounting to US$59.6 billion in total highlighting the lack of economic resilience in the region, according to the Natural Disasters in Asia and the Pacific: 2014 Year in Review report, released by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) today. The report presents a diagnostic analysis of the region’s state of resilience and lessons learnt.

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The study highlights that the highest economic losses in Asia and the Pacific were incurred from river-basin floods (US$16 billion) and Cyclone HudHud (US$11 billion) in India, followed by the Ludian earthquake in China (US$6 billion), and the tropical cyclones Lingling and Kajiki in Japan (US$5.2 billion).

The region was found largely unprepared in its response to cross-border floods and landslides. Such disasters, which may very well be on the rise because of climate change, require improved regional information exchanges and the joint coordination of operations for effective early warning and evacuations. The report calls for strengthened regional cooperation to address cross-border disasters.

ESCAP’s findings show how preparedness for severe storm events through effective early warning systems has significantly reduced death tolls.

“One important lesson from 2014 is that end-to-end early warning systems save lives,” said Ms. Shamika Sirimanne, Director of ESCAP’s ICT and Disaster Risk Reduction Division. “The successful preparation for cyclone Hudhud and typhoon Hagupit lies not only in the ability to predict the movement and intensity of storms, but also the capacity to engage and mobilize vulnerable communities in disaster preparedness.”

The 41 fatalities associated with cyclone Hudhud, a Category 4 storm, were considered relatively low, as were the 18 fatalities linked to Hagupit, a Category 3 typhoon.

According to the report, the Asia-Pacific region experienced five severe droughts in 2014, which affected 31.5 million people. The report calls for greater attention to slow-onset disasters, such as droughts, which receive the least attention but affect the poorest of the poor in the region.

The report notes the integral role of regional cooperation for sharing real-time information of storms, floods and other disasters, and helping to forecast hazards and disseminate early warning information across countries. 2014 saw extensive use of innovative technologies – space applications, geo-spatial tools and techniques, navigation and crowdsourcing – for the monitoring and assessment of major disasters. From their origin across oceans to their landfall, storms were tracked and monitored continuously by a constellation of weather satellites, radars and a range of monitoring networks across the region.

Leaders and decision-makers across Asia and the Pacific are preparing to finalize a new global framework for disaster risk reduction, which will replace the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action in March 2015 in Sendai, Japan. The lessons from 2014 clearly show that building resilience remains a key priority in protecting lives and assets in the Asia and the Pacific.

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