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Earthquake deaths increasing worldwide – UN report

May 10, 2011


Earthquake deaths increasing worldwide - UN report (Source: ONE News)Charlotte Bellis took this photo in the Christchurch CBD shortly after the quake struck. – Source: ONE News

Fatalities from earthquakes are increasing worldwide but the chance of dying in a weather-related disaster is diminishing the United Nations said today.

The UN report also claimed economic losses from catastrophes are rising in all regions often due to a lack of investment

Damage to infrastructure – schools, health centres, roads, bridges – is soaring in many low- and middle-income countries despite improvements in many early warning systems, it said in the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction.

Rich countries are also increasingly exposed, with damage on the rise following floods in Australia and earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand already this year, it said.

“Progress is mixed,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the report.

“The recent events in Japan point to new and catastrophic risks that need to be anticipated,” he warned, referring to the earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan last March that triggered the worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.

Disasters have already caused more than $300 billion in losses so far this year, roughly the same as in all of 2010, a UN spokeswoman said, citing figures by the Centre for Research for Epidemiology of Disasters, a UN collaborating centre.

Deaths from weather-related disasters such as floods and tropical cyclones are concentrated in Asia and the mortality risk for such events is now declining, according to the report, based on an analysis of self-assessments made by 130 countries.

“All the evidence we have shows that mortality is still going up for earthquakes,” Andrew Maskrey, the report’s lead author told a news briefing.

Many deaths and injuries are concentrated in extremely rare catastrophes, such as the 200,000 people who died in an earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, he said.

Insuring public assets

While there is good progress in setting up early warning systems to evacuate populations in the event of a disaster, many countries still fail to invest in improving land use and building codes, according to the report.

“One of the reasons why countries aren’t investing enough in disaster risk management is probably, to put it in simple terms, human nature. All of us as individuals and governments in particular do tend to heavily discount very low probability future events,” Maskrey said.

But he added: “It is very clear from the economic evidence that prevention is better than cure.”

Governments should also seek to insure public assets against catastrophic risks, according to the report.

Natural catastrophes and man-made disasters cost the insurance industry $43 billion (NZ$ 54 billion) in 2010, Swiss Re, the world’s second biggest reinsurer, said in March.

The bulk of insurance companies’ portfolios are in the developed world, North America, Japan and Europe, Maskrey said.

“Insurance penetration in developing countries is still extremely low. I think that at most you’re talking about less than 10% of the assets covered by insurance,” he added.

Peru is a “far-sighted” country which evaluates each public investment project for disaster risk, according to the expert.

Chile, after an earthquake and tsunami last year, gave monthly grants to families who had lost their homes.

“It means that these families are able to buffer their losses to some extent and avoid falling into poverty, avoid having to take children out of school, avoid malnutrition and avoid many of the negative things that happen after disasters.

“These and other programmes ready and waiting to be used by governments,” Maskrey said.

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