Nowhere are they increasing faster and with greater ferocity than in Asia Pacific, the world’s most disaster-prone region where, on average, 40 per cent of the globe’s “natural” catastrophe occurs. Witness such events as 2010’s Pakistan superflood, 2009’s ravaging typhoons in the Philippines, or 2008’s Cyclone Nargis and Sichuan earthquake. Nargis killed more than 138,000 people in Myanmar and the earthquake left almost 87,500 dead in China: mind-numbing catastrophes that accounted for 93 per cent of the world’s total disaster deaths that year. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 provided a similar statistic: 226,400 deaths in a world total of just over 242,000.
Statistics, meanwhile, tell us only what is recorded. If they tell us that from 2000 to 2009 some 2,159,714,852 people were affected by Asian disasters those are only the ones the statisticians know about. Untold numbers of others suffered as well but their plight was never recorded because many smaller disasters – that nonetheless devastate people’s lives – go unnoticed.
But however the numbers are counted, they amount to this: today in Asia Pacific, disaster is a daily occurrence. Often, it is more than daily. In Indonesia, government statistics show that, over a 12-month period, the average has been as high as 2.75 disasters a day, most of which passed largely unnoticed by the international community.
The outlook offers no respite, and governments and societies across Asia Pacific realize new challenges face us in a rapidly changing world. How we responded yesterday will not meet the needs of tomorrow. With climate change and the increasing severity of meteorological events, with the increasing numbers of people living in precarious situations, with irregular migration, urbanization, environmental degradation, large scale displacement, public health crises and ever more complex emergencies – we can be sure of that.
Disasters, however, are rarely natural. Only hazards are. Disasters are failures to cope with them. When a storm or volcanic eruption rains down its fury, the vulnerability of our communities, the fragility of our homes, the exposure of our lands, property and livelihoods determine whether and how much we will suffer. The human factor is the difference between a natural event and a disaster.
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