IMPACT
10/13/2016 11:13 am ET Updated Oct 18, 2016

Natural Disasters Cause WAY More Deaths In Poor Countries Than Rich Ones

“High-income countries suffer huge economic losses in disasters, but people in low-income countries pay with their lives."
Hurricane Matthew victims receive food from the UN's World Food Programme in Roche-a-Bateaux, in Les Cayes, in the south west
HECTOR RETAMAL via Getty Images
Hurricane Matthew victims receive food from the UN's World Food Programme in Roche-a-Bateaux, in Les Cayes, in the south west of Haiti, on October 12, 2016.

BARCELONA, Oct 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ending extreme poverty is essential to save lives and limit damage from disasters, U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon said, as figures revealed poorer nations bear the brunt of deaths from earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, storms and heat waves.

An analysis of more than 7,000 disasters over the past two decades, in which 1.35 million people died, showed 90 percent of those deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries. Ban called it “a damning indictment of inequality”.

The impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti, which suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010, lost more lives than any other country between 1996 and 2015, said the study issued by the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) on Thursday.

Last week Haiti was struck again when Hurricane Matthew killed at least 1,000 people and left around 1.4 million in urgent need of aid.

“High-income countries suffer huge economic losses in disasters, but people in low-income countries pay with their lives,” said Ban in a message for the annual International Day for Disaster Reduction.

A girl walks through debris where homes once stood after Hurricane Matthew hit Jeremie, Haiti, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
A girl walks through debris where homes once stood after Hurricane Matthew hit Jeremie, Haiti, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016.

Earthquakes and tsunamis were the biggest killers overall in the past 20 years, followed closely by climate-related disasters, which are increasing in number as the planet warms, according to the report.

Ban warned “hundreds of millions of people” are at risk of rising seas, earthquakes, and climate and weather extremes.

“They live on marginal lands, beneath unstable hillsides or on storm-exposed coastlines,” he said. “This is why eradicating extreme poverty ... is essential to reducing disaster risk.”

Last September, world leaders agreed to end poverty by 2030 as part of a new set of global development goals. The number of people living in extreme poverty fell by more than 100 million to 767 million in 2013, the World Bank said earlier this month.

Residents burn debris and work to repair damaged homes as dusk falls in Sous-Roches, outside Les Cayes, Haiti, Tuesday, Oct.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Residents burn debris and work to repair damaged homes as dusk falls in Sous-Roches, outside Les Cayes, Haiti, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016.

On average the death toll per disaster in low-income countries was five times more than in high-income countries which have more effective early warning systems and better preparedness, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, which collects the data.

The UNISDR praised examples in developing countries where efforts to protect people have paid off.

They include Fiji, where early warning and action by the authorities helped limit the death toll to 44 earlier this year from Cyclone Winston, the most powerful storm to hit the Pacific island nation.

In India and Nepal, the NGO SEEDS has provided housing that can resist earthquake and cyclones in poor communities. And Nigeria’s health ministry was recognised for stopping Ebola from taking hold when the pandemic was at its height in West Africa.

CLIMATE CHANGE

UNISDR head Robert Glasser highlighted the role of climate change in increasing the risks of disasters around the world.

The report said the number of weather and climate-related disasters had more than doubled in the last two decades compared with the preceding two. All nations are being affected, including richer countries that have suffered tens of thousands of deaths linked to heat waves in particular.

People look out from their hut, built of tarpaulin and bamboo, located on the swamp of Pay Kunhasay village, Kawhmu Township
Aung Hia Tun / Reuters
People look out from their hut, built of tarpaulin and bamboo, located on the swamp of Pay Kunhasay village, Kawhmu Township October 28, 2008. Six months after Cyclone Nargis slammed into army-ruled Myanmar, killing more than 130,000 people, many in the worst-hit Irrawaddy delta continue to rely on handouts to stay alive.

But the poorest are still far more likely to die. Glasser compared Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar’s coast in 2008 resulting in 138,000 deaths, to the zero casualties in Australia when top-strength Cyclone Yasi slammed into Queensland in 2010.

“The irony is that those countries that have contributed least to climate change, to this crisis we face, are the ones that are being hit the hardest in terms of loss of life from... these increasingly frequent and severe weather and climate-related events,” Glasser told reporters in Geneva.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

CONVERSATIONS