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Disasters: Africa

Extreme hydrometeorological events such as flooding and drought are common across Africa, while geophysical events such as earthquakes occur predominantly in Northern Africa, along the Atlas mountain range, and in the African Rift Valley, which also experiences volcanic activity. The El Niņo Southern Oscillation causes significant climatic disturbances in most parts of Africa, either inducing drought or flooding, or increasing sea temperatures leading to cyclones.

These natural events become disasters where large numbers of people or infrastructure are affected, as has occurred over the past 30 years due to high population growth rates, especially in urban centres and drought-prone areas - 34 per cent of Africa's population lives in arid areas compared to just 2 per cent of Europe's population (Findlay 1996).

Impacts of disasters include loss of lives and livelihoods, damage to infrastructure and communications, interruption of economic activities, and increased risk of disease outbreaks. In many places, these impacts are worsened by poverty and marginalization, and overcrowding. Inadequate, old and deteriorating infrastructure and lack of economic security to provide for times of hardship also compromise people's coping capacities and therefore magnify the impacts of disasters. There is growing concern that the frequency and severity of disasters are increasing at a time when early warning systems are inadequate and disaster management is weak (DMC 2000).