Newsbrief, TerraViva United Nations

Asia-Pacific Most Disaster-Prone Region, Says New Study

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 27 2015 (IPS) - Asia-Pacific is the world’s most disaster prone region and its disaster risk is likely to increase without necessary action, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) said in a new report released here.

The study, titled 2015 Asia-Pacific Disaster Report: Disasters Without Borders launched on Oct. 27, illustrates the extent of damage and loss caused by disasters in the Asia-Pacific region.

In just the past decade, the region experienced over 1600 natural disasters, 40 percent of the global total, which resulted in the loss of half a million lives. Such disasters have affected an additional 1.4 billion people, constituting 80 percent of those affected globally.

Asia-Pacific has also faced economic damage of more than half a trillion dollars during the same period, accounting for 45 percent of the worldwide total. If current trends are to continue, by 2030, annual losses in the region will average 160 billion dollars per year.

UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Shamshad Akhtar noted that this has undermined development gains in the region.

For instance, Nepal’s 7.6 magnitude earthquake in April left nearly 9000 dead, destroyed more than half a million homes, and incurred economic damages of one-third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The devastation has hindered the country’s progress in transitioning from the status of least developed country to a developing country by 2022. “It is a grave concern that disasters are becoming more frequent, much larger, and more intense,” remarked Akhtar.

The report also highlighted the transboundary nature of disasters in Asia-Pacific as it contains two of the most seismically active fault lines and three major ocean basins that span numerous national borders.

The recent Oct. 26 earthquake in southern Asia which has left over 360 people dead struck both Afghanistan and Pakistan while tremors were also felt in northern India and Tajikistan.

Chief of Policy and Analysis Branch at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) David O’Connor also highlighted drought as one of the region’s most devastating natural disasters.

“Drought is not something that is always associated with Asia,” he said, during a press briefing on October 27.

The report stated that drought, the “forgotten disaster,” has impacted more than 1.6 billion people in Asia-Pacific since 1970, costing an estimated 53 billion dollars in economic damages. Poor farmers are especially vulnerable to such disasters.

The report added that existing risks are further exacerbated by economic growth, rising population, growing cities, and the subsequent impact these factors have on the environment.

A recent report by ESCAP on the State of Asian and Pacific Cities revealed that half of the region’s population currently lives in urban areas; this urban population is expected to increase to two-thirds by 2050.

Already unable to provide basic services, cities are being pushed to its limits, leaving the poorest communities even more exposed to environmental shocks including floods and landslides.

ESCAP estimates that 742 million city dwellers now face extreme to high disaster risk. This is estimated to increase to 980 million by 2030.

As a result, ESCAP highlighted the need to invest in disaster risk reduction and build resilience.

“A fundamental rethink is needed as many governments still follow a short-sighted approach to disasters—with the focus on response, and paying less attention to adaptation, mitigation and preparedness,” said Dr. Akhtar.

Capacity development and resilience building must not only be limited to national agencies, but it must permeate all sectors, the report added.

Key components of disaster risk reduction include effective early warning systems and regional cooperation to share technology, information, and expertise.

Though some countries have already integrated these components into national plans, major gaps remain, particularly in poorer countries with high disaster risks and low coping capacity.

“Only by coming together in the spirit of cooperation can the Asia-Pacific region hope to become truly disaster resilient and achieve sustainable development in the future,” Dr. Akhtar remarked.

Among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are commitments to strengthen capacity for adaptation to disasters, reduce exposure and build resilience to environmental shocks, and decrease economic losses caused by disasters.

Senior policy makers across Asia-Pacific are currently meeting at the ESCAP Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction in Thailand to discuss capacity and resilience building in the context of the SDGs.

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