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Report Says Deaths, Economic Losses Jump in 2008

A new report finds a marked increase in the number of deaths and economic losses in 2008 compared to the 2000-2007 yearly average. The Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters reports 2008 was one of the deadliest years on record, with two disasters, Cyclone Nargis in Burma and the Sichuan earthquake in China accounting for most of the 235,816 deaths.

The report finds Cyclone Nargis in Burma and the Sichuan earthquake in China together killed more than one-quarter of a million people. That means that less than 10,000 people were killed in the other 319 natural disasters that occurred last year.

U.N. Experts say these deaths could have been substantially reduced if buildings in China had been made more earthquake-resilient and if an effective early warning system had been in place in Burma.

The report says natural disasters last year affected 211 million people and totaled $181 billion in economic losses. It says Asia remains the main affected continent, with nine out of the top 10 countries recording the most disaster-related deaths.

Director of the Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters Debarati Gija-Sapir says the list of countries with the most natural disasters include, what she calls, the usual suspects.

"China features there. Philippines features there. India features there. United States features there. Indonesia features there on almost every single year," said Sapir. "The two new countries on this list are Kenya and Colombia. And, the countries that are conspicuously absent from the last five years are any European country."

The report finds floods and other weather-related events remained among the most frequent natural disasters last year. Sapir says drought is one of the most important consequences of climate change. She says the incidence of drought is expected to rise.

"If you look at the drought occurrence, the victims and the reported damage costs, you would say, we do not have anything to worry about. There is no cost to drought, nothing. Reported damage cost zero," she said. "This actually reflects a very great neglect of the global development community in looking at droughts, especially in Africa where nearly 80 percent of droughts occur, that no economic cost is associated to these droughts."

She warns the international community will pay a heavy price for this neglect in the coming years. As droughts increase and Africa runs out of water, she says more conflicts will break out.

She says more Africans will flee to richer countries in search of a better life. She says that will cause countries to shut their doors to refugees and other desperate people.