Disasters have no limits
While laws can be made to regulate the conduct of human beings in war, the
same cannot be said for the natural phenomena that trigger many disasters.
Where, when and how they strike is dependent on many factors that are usually
outside immediate human control. The damage and suffering they cause are,
however, very much in our control.
In 1998 alone, natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, drought,
earthquakes and landslides wrought havoc in 121 countries, left some 60,000 dead
and affected some 126 million people, not to mention the economic cost, which
ran into billions of dollars.* All the evidence suggests that these numbers will
rise inexorably, if action is not taken now to address some of the root causes
and to put in place local, national and international mechanisms to prevent
naturally occurring phenomena from reaching cataclysmic proportions.
Just waiting to happen
The rapid, uncontrolled growth of the world's major cities has put many more
people at risk in the event of a disaster in an urban environment. People living
in high-rise concrete buildings are especially vulnerable, as was tragically
demonstrated by the Armenian earthquake in 1988 in which 100,000 died. Rich,
developed nations are not immune either: some 6,000 people died in the
earthquake that shook the Japanese city of Kobe in 1995.
The most serious crises occur, however, in the thousands of small cities and
shanty towns across the world. Although hurricanes are a frequent occurrence on
the southern and eastern coasts of the United States, they rarely claim many
lives. But when Hurricane Mitch battered Central America, Nicaragua and Honduras
had fewer resources to warn or protect or rescue their people. The toll of dead,
injured and homeless was correspondingly high. The devastation caused by the
central European floods in 1997 also shows how a weakened infrastructure in
countries in economic transition seriously undermines their ability to withstand
* source: World Disasters Report 1999, International
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