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Disastrous events

The El Niño that still persisted at the beginning of the year sharply changed rainfall patterns, influenced temperature and wind patterns in some areas, and probably contributed to droughts in India, China and Australia (IRICP 2003). The floods of the summer monsoon rains from April to August resulted in more than 180 deaths and around 400 000 homeless people in eastern India, Nepal and Bangladesh (Reuters 2003). In May, a tropical storm across the Bay of Bengal, which was accompanied by torrential rainfall, caused around 300 deaths and the displacement of 200 000 people. The flooding, which severely damaged the infrastructure, economy and livelihoods in the southwestern part of Sri Lanka, was considered the worst in over 50 years (UNOCHA 2003, NOAA 2003). Heavy rains in July also hit eight Chinese provinces. Numerous floods were blamed for hundreds of lives. One hundred million people were affected and the economic loss was estimated at US$5 000 million (CMA 2003a, IRICP 2003).

In eastern China, 640 000 ha of farmland were hit by drought and total crop failure was reported for over 24 000 ha (Tong 2003). More than seven million people suffered from a shortage of drinking water and economic losses were estimated at US$109 million (CMA 2003b). In May, 1 438 people in India and 40 in Bangladesh died from a heatwave in South Asia. The southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh was the worst affected, with 1 317 reported deaths, as temperatures rose to between 45 and 49° C (IRICP 2003). At the other extreme, in January a cold snap gripped South Asia and took the lives of around 1 000 people in Bangladesh, India and Nepal (Disaster Relief 2003).

The devastating mudslides in the Philippines in December, triggered by a week of pounding rains in provinces near the Pacific Ocean, caused over 200 deaths (NOAA 2003).
Asia and the Pacific is well-known for its vulnerability to earthquakes. The earthquake which devastated Bam City in Iran in December was one of the worst events of the year (Box 1).

Box 1: Bam earthquake

On 26 December 2003, an earthquake of magnitude 6.5 struck Bam City in south-eastern Iran, and killed at least 42 000 people, injured 30 000, and left 75 000 homeless. The earthquake destroyed 80 per cent of wells and 87 per cent of the buildings in the city of Bam, as well as the 2 000 year old medieval fortress, the largest earthern structure in the world, which sits on a cliff near the city and attracts thousands of tourists each year. A total of 18 000 buildings in Bam and surrounding villages were destroyed including 131 school buildings, three hospitals, 95 health centres and 14 rural health clinics.


The earthquake killed at least 42 000 people, injured 30 000, and left 75 000 homeless.
Source: REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Sources: IRIN 2004a, IRIN 2004b, UNOCHA 2004


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