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Economic losses from disasters on rise, UN warns
Geneva - The chance of dying in a weather-related disaster is diminishing worldwide, but economic losses from catastrophes are rising in all regions often due to a lack of investment, the UN said.
Damage to infrastructure — schools, health centers, roads, bridges — is soaring in many low- and middle-income countries despite improvements in many early warning systems, it said in the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction.
Rich countries are also increasingly exposed, with damage on the rise following floods in Australia and earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand already this year, it said.
“Progress is mixed,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the report he is due to present in Geneva later in the day.
“The recent events in Japan point to new and catastrophic risks that need to be anticipated,” he warned, referring to the earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan last March that triggered the worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.
Disasters have already caused more than $300 billion in losses so far this year, roughly the same as in all of 2010, a UN spokeswoman said, citing figures by the Center for Research for Epidemiology of Disasters, a UN collaborating center.
Deaths from weather-related disasters such as floods and tropical cyclones are concentrated in Asia and the mortality risk for such events is now declining, according to the report, based on an analysis of self-assessments made by 130 countries.
“All the evidence we have shows that mortality is still going up for earthquakes,” Andrew Maskrey, the report’s lead author told a news briefing.
Many deaths and injuries are concentrated in extremely rare catastrophes, such as the 200,000 people who died in an earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, he said.
Insuring public assets
While there is good progress in setting up early warning systems to evacuate populations in the event of a disaster, many countries still fail to invest in improving land use and building codes, according to the report.
“One of the reasons why countries aren’t investing enough in disaster risk management is probably, to put it in simple terms, human nature. All of us as individuals and governments in particular do tend to heavily discount very low probability future events,” Maskrey said.
But he added: “It is very clear from the economic evidence that prevention is better than cure.”
Governments should also seek to insure public assets against catastrophic risks, according to the report.
Natural catastrophes and man-made disasters cost the insurance industry $43 billion in 2010, Swiss Re, the world’s second biggest reinsurer, said in March.
The bulk of insurance companies’ portfolios is in the developed world, North America, Japan and Europe, Maskrey said.
“Insurance penetration in developing countries is still extremely low. I think that at most you’re talking about less than 10 percent of the assets covered by insurance,” he added.
Tuesday 2011-05-10  |  23:43:32   
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