Tue, Aug 21, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Natural disasters plague Asia-Pacific

AFP , SYDNEY, DHAKA AND ATHOK, MYANMAR

Asia-Pacific countries accounted for 90 percent of people affected by natural disasters around the world since 2000, the region's emergency management chiefs were told yesterday.

Climate change and population growth were likely to increase the incidence and severity of the disasters, which already affect about 250 million people globally each year, said Terje Skavdal of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Asia-Pacific region was particularly vulnerable, Skavdal told an APEC meeting in Australia ahead of the group's annual summit in Sydney next month.

"We meet now in a period of extensive and damaging flooding across South Asia and East Asia, flooding in North Korea, the Peru earthquake, a strong earthquake in the Solomon Islands that fortunately did not result in large damage, and Hurricane Dean," he said.

The 2004 tsunami alone, which struck 14 countries after an earthquake off Indonesia, accounted for 37 percent of all recorded fatalities from natural disasters since 2000, Skavdal said.

The UN was concerned that ever-larger population centers were spreading in the most vulnerable areas, such as low-lying coastal land and earthquake zones.

"The incidence and severity of disasters associated with natural hazards are likely to increase under the effects of climate change, population growth, urbanization, desertification and environmental degradation," he said.

"This requires us to fundamentally review and upgrade our preparedness."

The meeting of emergency management chiefs from the 21 APEC nations, which ends on Thursday in the city of Cairns, aims to find ways to better prepare for and respond to disasters.

Underscoring the importance of the meeting, Bangladesh said yesterday it had sought US$150 million dollars in assistance from donor agencies following the worst floods in nearly a decade, as the toll from this year's monsoon season passed 700.

The government requested the money from donors including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), finance ministry official Aminul Islam Bhuiyan said.

In the last 24 hours, 23 more people had died, taking the country's death toll to 713.

Thousands are being admitted to hospital each day suffering from water-borne diseases.

At least 10.5 million people were displaced or marooned by the flooding which began late last month and submerged 40 percent of the delta nation.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people have been made homeless in Myanmar's Ayeyawaddy River delta after unusually heavy rains triggered floods in this low-lying region, local officials said yesterday.

State media in military-ruled Myanmar have made little mention of the floods, but local officials and residents said that at least 18 villages are under water.

About 10,000 homes have been hit by the floods, according to local officials and residents.

Eight schools have been closed and about 162km2 of rice paddies were destroyed, according to an agriculture department official.

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