More than US$1.5 trillion of the world’s wealth is exposed to harm from natural disasters, as the economic risks soar despite signs that efforts to reduce the human toll are working, the UN said yesterday.
A report for a biennial UN conference on disaster risk that opened in Geneva estimated that the amount of global GDP exposed to harm by disasters had nearly tripled from US$525.7 billion 40 years ago to US$1.58 trillion.
Meanwhile, the risk of economic losses in wealthy countries because of floods has increased by 160 percent over the past 30 years, while for tropical cyclones the risk has grown by 262 percent, the report estimated.
“The risk of losing wealth in disasters is actually increasing faster than that wealth is being created,” said Andrew Maskrey, coordinator of the 2011 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction.
“Losses from disasters are often at least as great as those a country is experiencing through high inflation or armed conflict for example,” Maskrey told journalists.
The report by the UN’s disaster reduction unit said the damage inflicted by mainly natural disasters on housing, infrastructure and public assets such as schools and hospitals was “soaring in many low and middle income countries.”
Maskrey said that the costs were growing largely because prevention or mitigation measures — such as land planning in hazard areas or disaster resistant housing, schools or hospitals — were failing to keep pace with faster and broader economic growth.
In one example, the UN estimated that the amount of disaster losses absorbed by each Mexican government in power since 1982 has doubled from an average of US$10 billion to US$20 billion.
The report reiterated warnings about a growing pattern of extreme weather events that has been linked to climate change.
The average number of annually reported disasters caused by tropical cyclones during the last four decades has tripled, and spans a bigger range of countries, according to the report.
However, the UN for the first time predicted a downward trend for mortality in weather-related disasters, especially in East Asia, despite sprawling population growth in flood plains or exposed coastlines.
“I think we’re now seeing the fruits both of improved development conditions in many countries as well as improvements in disaster preparedness, response and early warning systems,” Maskrey said.