Earthquakes the deadliest of all disasters during past decade – UN official

28 January 2010

Earthquakes were the deadliest natural disasters in the past decade, accounting for 60 per cent of deaths caused by such hazards, a senior United Nations official said today, stressing the importance of investing in disaster risk reduction.

UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlström stated that earthquakes remain a serious threat for millions of people worldwide as eight of the most populous cities in the world are built on earthquake fault-lines.

“The fortunate part is that earthquakes don’t happen very often but they are the deadliest of disasters. They take large numbers of people’s lives in a split second,” she said during a joint news conference in Geneva between the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and the Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).

According to the figures released today by CRED, 3,852 disasters killed more than 780,000 people over the past 10 years, affected more than 2 billion others and cost a minimum of $960 billion.

In terms of human losses, Asia is the continent that has been struck again and again by disasters during the last decade, accounting for 85 per cent of all fatalities.

The most deadly disasters of the past decade were the Indian Ocean tsunami, which hit several countries in Asia in 2004, leaving 226,408 dead; Cyclone Nargis, which killed 138,366 people in Myanmar (2008); and the Sichuan earthquake in China (2008), causing the deaths of 87,476 people. In addition, 73,338 people were killed in the earthquake in Pakistan (2005) and 72,210 in heat waves in Europe (2003).

“The number of catastrophic events has more than doubled since the 1980-1989 decade. In contrast, the numbers of affected people have increased at a slower rate. This may be due to better community preparedness and prevention,” said Debarati Guha-Sapir, Director of CRED.

Ms. Wahlström stressed that disaster risk reduction is an indispensable investment for earthquake-prone cities and communities. “Seismic risk is a permanent risk and cannot be ignored. Earthquakes can happen anywhere at any time.”

The eight most populous cities on earthquake fault-lines are Tokyo, Mexico City, New York, Mumbai, Delhi, Shanghai, Kolkata and Jakarta.

She added that disaster risk reduction strategies must be incorporated in the reconstruction of Haiti to minimize loss of life and destruction of key installations such as hospitals in future disasters.

The small Caribbean nation was rocked by a 7.0-magnitude quake on 12 January that devastated the capital, Port-au-Prince, and affected an estimated one third of its population of 9 million.


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