Natural disasters cost Asia Pacific $60 billion, 6,000 lives in 2014

In Photo: Laborers work at an embankment under construction near Sonaga village in the Sundarbans, India. Thousands are homeless as seas rise twice as fast as the global average and water eats away at the islands or subsumes them altogether in this vast region called the Sundarbans, straddling India and Bangladesh. Climate change is also expected to exacerbate  ooding and to strengthen the frequent storms and cyclones that barrel through the swampy region.

UNITED NATIONS—Natural disasters in Asian and Pacific nations cost almost $60 billion and killed 6,000 people in 2014.

There were 119 “disaster events” recorded in the Asia Pacific last year, including cyclones, storms, floods, landslides and earthquakes.

The most damaging single event was a river basin flood in India in September that killed 1,281 people and caused $16 billion in damages, according to a report from the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap).

“Disasters in Asia and the Pacific: 2014 Year in Review” said the 6,050 people killed in Asia Pacific natural disasters was well down on the 18,744 recorded in the region in 2013.

Almost 80 million people were affected by Asia Pacific natural disasters last year, and a total of $59.6 billion in economic loss was wreaked on the region.

Tropical Cyclone Hudhud caused $11 billion in damage in India in October; the Ludian earthquake in China killed 617 and left $6 billion in damage behind in August; landslides in Nepal killed 229; while 75 deaths and $5.2 billion in damage resulted from Japanese Tropical Cyclones Lingling and Kajiki.

Floods, however, were the most damaging natural events, causing 3,559 deaths and $26.8 billion in damage.

Escap warns that the Asia-Pacific was “found largely unprepared in its response to cross-border floods and landslides,” and urged countries to implement better response strategies in future.

“Such disasters, which may very well be on the rise because of climate change, require improved regional information exchanges and the joint coordination of operations for effective early warning and evacuations,” Escap said in a statement.

“[Escap] calls for strengthened regional cooperation to address cross-border disasters.”

The report makes several recommendations of more efficient early warning systems to give time for communities to prepare for, or flee from, impending natural disasters.

“One important lesson from 2014 is that end-to-end early-warning systems save lives,” said Shamika Sirimanne, Escap director of Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction.

“The successful preparation [for disasters] lies not only in the ability to predict the movement and intensity of storms, but also the capacity to engage and mobilize vulnerable communities in disaster preparedness.”

The Asia Pacific endured 119 of the world’s natural disasters in 2014, more than half of the 226 recorded worldwide.

While figures are a decrease from 2013, where 155 natural disasters caused $63 billion and affected 85 billion people, Escap urged nations to craft better strategies to respond to such events.

The report made particular note of drought in the region. While drought in the Asia Pacific killed only 180 people in 2014, and caused $18 million in damage, it affected 31.5 million people—more than any other disaster type—and the report says this figure may even be underestimated.

Escap warned many Asia-Pacific nations do not have the information-gathering capacity to mitigate such drought events, leading to an inability to find extra water sources.

The report has called on nations to pay attention to “slow-onset disasters” like drought, noting that an Escap program for monitoring drought conditions is currently being trialled in six countries.

The UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will be held in Sendai, Japan, from March 14 to 18.

Josh Butler / Inter Press Service

Image Credits: AP/Bikas Das