Page last updated at 23:59 GMT, Saturday, 16 May 2009 00:59 UK

Disaster risk increasing, says UN

By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Geneva

Damage caused by Hurricane Nargis in Burma
Disasters like Hurricane Nargis can't be prevented but could be planned for

The risk of disaster worldwide is increasing, says a new UN report.

Climate change, environmental degradation and badly planned urban development are more likely to affect populations around the world.

The report warns that millions of lives are in jeopardy because proper risk assessment is rarely carried out, particularly in developing countries.

The UN says money spent on risk reduction is a cost-effective way to reduce deaths and injuries.

The Asian tsunami of 2004, or last year's earthquake in China are natural phenomenon which can't be prevented.

But the Global Assessment on Disaster Risk Reduction says there is a lot we can do to reduce our own risk - the problem is, we aren't doing it.

We already know that climate change means more extreme weather events - but the UN's Assistant Secretary General Margareta Wahlstrom says most countries have failed to look at how that will affect their own towns and cities.

Damage caused by December 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka
The local effects of disasters like the 2004 tsunami need research

"We don't know enough of the impact of climate change at local level," she explained.

"We know a lot about the global parameters but how it is going to play out in local communities, we don't have enough research, knowledge and scientific basis for that yet."

The report highlights some staggering differences in risk assessment and reduction between rich and poor countries.

Japan and the Philippines for example have equal exposure to tropical cyclones - but for every one death in Japan, 17 people die in the Philippines.

This report is aimed not at the emergency services, but at governments and their planning and finance ministers.

The UN says spending money on risk reduction is a good investment - while loss of life, property and livelihoods is very costly.

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