A new United Nations report finds a marked increase in the number of floods last year compared with the average of the last seven years. The report says Asia was the continent hardest hit by disasters. Figures were released Friday by the Belgian World Health Organization collaborating Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva where the report was launched.
As natural disasters go, 2007 was just an average year. The report says 399 disasters were recorded, with floods accounting for more than half.
The Head of the Center for Research on Disaster Epidemiology, Debarati Guha-Sapir, says nearly 200 million people were affected, about half of them in China.
"Fifty percent of the total number of affected populations in the world were only in China," she said. "Fifty percent was distributed over the rest of the world. There were no real mega-disasters such as the tsunami or the earthquake in Pakistan or the earthquake in Bam or the heat wave in Europe in 2007, which is good news."
Without the "biggies," as she calls them, more than 16,500 people were killed in natural disasters last year, compared to the annual average of 74,000 between 2000 and 2006.
The report says eight out of the 10 countries with the highest disaster deaths were in Asia. But, the United States topped all other countries with the number of reported natural disasters. The U.S. recorded 22 events, followed by China with 20 and India with 18.
Guha-Sapir says earthquakes take the biggest toll in lives. But, she says climate related disasters are on the increase and they, accordingly, are claiming more lives.
"The climate-related disasters, floods and windstorms, are the two disasters which have, in fact, killed more people in 2007 than they have overall in the last five-year average," she added.
Guha-Sapir says there is growing evidence that global warming will cause tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue fever to spread to countries in Europe and North America where they are largely absent.
"We have started a series of studies on looking at disease-outbreaks related to floods and related to drought," she explained. "So, scarcity of water and excess water both can change completely the disease profile of a region."
Epidemiologist Guha-Sapir says two diseases that are likely to become widespread problems over the next five years are dengue hemorrhagic fever and leptospirosis, a bacteria water-borne disease, which, she says is also becoming a hemorrhagic disease.
The report notes natural disasters also are an economic disaster. Last year, it says the United States, Japan and European countries wracked up $62.5 billion in disaster-related economic losses.