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Natural disasters

Vulnerability to disasters is closely linked with population density and economic resources. The impact of natural disasters in the region is severe, with more than 1.4 million people killed, almost 4 000 million affected and US$438 million in damage over the past three decades (see table). During 1991-2000 alone, the total number of deaths caused by natural disasters in the region exceeded 550 000 or 83 per cent of the global total (IFRC 2001), the majority of them in Asian countries with low or medium levels of human development.

Impact of natural disasters in Asia and the Pacific, 1972-2000
  number killed
number affected
(US$1 000)
South Asia 761 2 164 034 60 881
Southeast Asia 73 284 074 33 570
Northwest Pacific and East Asia 606 1 447 643 317 174
Central Asia 3 4 895 986
Australia and New Zealand 1 15 761 21 900
South Pacific 4 4 061 3 139
total 1 447 3 920 467 437 649

Note: Central Asia figures are for 1992/93-2000

Source: CRED-OFDA 2002

The highest number of deaths occurred in South Asia (the sub-region with the highest population density and the lowest per capita income) and the lowest number in Australia and New Zealand, the subregion with the lowest population density and a high per capita income (UNPD 2001, World Bank 2001).

China experienced more than 300 natural disasters and recorded more than 311 000 deaths during 1971- 2000; India with more than 300 disasters suffered more than 120 000 deaths; the Philippines, with nearly 300 events, lost about 34 000 people; Indonesia experienced about 200 disasters with more than 15 000 lives lost; and Bangladesh experienced 181 events and more than 250 000 people killed.

Some areas are more exposed to natural hazards because of location (on the coast, near a volcano or geological fault). Cyclones occur most frequently over the Northwest Pacific, over the southern end of the Bay of Bengal, east of India and south of Bangladesh (UNESCAP and ADB 1995, Ali 1999, Huang 1999, Kelly and Adger 2000). Bangladesh, China and India are the most flood-prone countries of the region (Mirza and Eriksen 1996, Ji and others 1993). Hilly and mountainous areas (China, India, Nepal, Philippines and Thailand) are most prone to landslides, which are aggravated by deforestation and cultivation that destabilizes slopes. Countries along or adjacent to seismic zones (Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Nepal, Philippines and the Pacific Islands) are more vulnerable to seismic events, while countries along the Pacific Rim are at risk from volcanic eruptions, particularly Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines (UNESCAP and ADB 1995). The El Niņo phenomenon has significant impacts over large areas in the region, the most affected being Indonesia (Glantz 1999, Salafsky 1994, 1998).

Selected natural disasters: Asia and the Pacific
  • July 1976: an earthquake in China took 242 000 lives
  • April 1991: a cyclone in Bangladesh accompanied by a storm surge caused 138 866 deaths
  • February 1990 and December 1991: cyclones in Samoa caused losses of US$450 million, about four times the country's GDP
  • January 1995: an earthquake in Kobe, Japan, became one of the costliest natural disasters in history - 5 502 people were killed and more than 1 800 000 affected, with damage estimated at US$131.5 billion
  • October 1999: the Super Cyclone in the eastern state of Orissa in India caused more than 10 000 deaths, while 15 million people were rendered homeless, left without food, shelter or water and their livestock population devastated - the cyclone damaged 1.8 million ha of agricultural land and uprooted more than 90 million trees
  • January 2001: an earthquake of magnitude 7.7 on the Richter scale rocked the state of Gujarat in India, causing more than 20 000 deaths and 167 000 injuries - economic losses estimated at US$2.1 billion

Sources: ADPC 2001, CRED-OFDA 2002, DoAC India 2002