Natural Disasters: A Call for Action

Article excerpt

Because the incidence of natural disasters increased throughout the world in the 1980s, the United Nations declared the 1990s the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR).Global losses had increased three times from the early 1960s to the late 1980s and insured losses increased nearly five times over the same period. Since then they have skyrocketed, with 1992 registering a high of more than $60 billion. But these figures actually underestimate the true cost of natural disasters because of the difficulties of measuring secondary effects and long term impacts. A disproportionate share of the damage occurs in developing countries, which suffer 95 percent of the natural disaster death toll. The developing world's economic losses, figured as a percentage of gross national product, are almost 20 times greater than losses suffered by developed nations.

At the mid-decade IDNDR meeting in Yokohama, Japan last May, there was broad agreement that much of the increase is due to migration into disaster-prone areas, especially along coasts and rivers. Today, an estimated 60 percent of the world's population lives within 100 kilometers of a coastline. That means more people in the areas that are most vulnerable to flooding, hurricanes, and tropical storms.

Also, man-made changes in the landscape increasingly interfere with the natural cycle of storms, floods, and fires. Such changes tend to amplify the effects of those cycles. For example, removing large areas of tropical forest, using agricultural methods that lead to serious erosion, or filling in wetlands and drainage areas may exacerbate a natural event, causing it to evolve into a disaster. …