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Disasters: Latin America and the Caribbean

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the main natural hazards are droughts, hurricanes, cyclones, tropical storms, floods, tidal waves, avalanches, landslides and mudslides, earthquakes and volcanoes. Mining and oil spill accidents represent the main human-caused disasters in the region.

A total of 65 260 deaths due to natural disasters were reported in the region during the 1990s. The deaths were mainly a result of floods (54 per cent), epidemics (18.4 per cent), storms, cyclones and hurricanes (17.7 per cent), earthquakes (5.2 per cent) and landslides (3.2 per cent) (CRED-OFDA 2002). Considering that floods and landslides are often associated with storms and hurricanes, this means that three-quarters of total human losses due to natural disasters in the region have a hydrometeorological origin.

The number of deaths due to disasters declined markedly between 1972 and 1999, coinciding with the global trend. Total fatalities in the 1990s were less than one-third of those in the 1970s while the number of people injured fell by almost one-half (after rising by nearly 30 per cent in the 1980s) (CEPAL 1999). This trend can be explained by fewer severe earthquakes in densely populated or highly vulnerable areas and by the establishment of early warning systems and disaster-preparedness measures in some countries over the past 30 years (PAHO 1998). Economic losses caused by disasters increased by almost 230 per cent between the 1960s and the 1990s (CEPAL 1999), again reflecting a global trend.