The good news: fewer people died from natural disasters in Asia in 2012 than in previous years. The bad news: between January and October, natural disasters still claimed more lives here than anywhere else in the world - and experts predict the trend will continue as populations and industries expand in a region that already houses the world’s largest number of urban residents.
“Cities are growing. There will be even more people and factories. If you think we have a problem now, we will have even more in the future,” said Jerry Velasquez, head of the Asia-Pacific office for the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The agency estimates the number of people living in flood-prone urban areas in East Asia may reach 67 million by 2060.
The Belgian-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), which maintains a database of natural disasters worldwide, called for more regional cooperation on disaster data gathering, more work translating science for policymakers and the public, and more grassroots research on the needs of those affected, especially farmers.
Below are 10 highlights from the preliminary 2012 data on natural disasters in 28 Asian countries, released by UNISDR and CRED on 11 December.
1. Countries in the region reported 83 disasters - mostly floods - in 2012. The disasters killed some 3,100 people, affected 64.5 million and left behind US$15 billion in damage.
2. Worldwide, 231 disasters killed some 5,400 people, affected 87 million and caused $44.6 billion in damage.
3. From 1950 to 2011, nine out of 10 people affected by disasters worldwide were in Asia.
4. One of the region’s hardest-hit countries this year (and this past decade) was the Philippines. Since 2002, the country has had 182 recorded disasters, which killed almost 11,000 people. This figure does not include the storm that hit the country’s south on 4 December; more than 600 were killed in that event, and some 800 are still reported missing.
5. Of the top five disasters that created the most damage this year, three were in China, and the other two were in Pakistan and Iran. Cumulatively, these events resulted in an estimated $13.3 billion in damage.
6. China led the list of most disasters in 2012 (18), followed by Philippines (16), Indonesia (10), Afghanistan (9) and India (5).
7. China was the only “multi-hazard”-prone country. In the others, including Pakistan, 85 percent of damage came from one event, calling into question efforts to cultivate “multi-hazard” resiliency, said CRED.
8. Two-hazard countries included Afghanistan (drought and flood); Bangladesh and Vietnam (flood and storm); and India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (flood and earthquake).
9. In the past decade, Indonesia and the Philippines have had many disasters but relatively few affected people, while Bangladesh and Thailand have had fewer disasters and more affected, while Pakistan and Vietnam fell in between the two categories. These numbers offer a sign of how prepared these respective countries were to face emergencies, researchers noted.
10. Pakistan suffered large-scale loss of life from floods for the third successive year; from August to October, 480 people died in floods. June-July floods in China affected over 17 million people and caused the most economic loss in the region - $4.8 billion.