Thursday, June 24, 1999 Published at 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
The misery of 98
Environmental refugees are on the increase
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby
Natural disasters in 1998 were responsible for creating more refugees than wars or other armed conflicts, says the 1999 World Disasters Report.
The report is published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
And the federation's president, Dr Astrid Heiberg, warns of the possibility that two growing trends may combine to create future disasters on an unprecedented scale.
Nature worsens poverty
"But when these two factors collide, you have a new scale of catastrophe."
Dr Heiberg says the number of people needing help from the federation's member societies because of floods and earthquakes had grown in six years from under 500,000 to more than 5.5 million.
It says analysis of the consequences of hurricanes and other climatic changes shows a trend towards "super-disasters" triggered by the weather.
The rice crop failed, the price of imported rice quadrupled, the value of the currency fell by 80%, and there were food riots in the capital, Jakarta.
Outside the cities, vast forest fires filled the region's skies with smoke. The report says El Nino caused fires, droughts and floods which killed 21,000 people.
In China, 180 million people were affected by floods caused in part by deforestation in the Yangtze basin. And bitter winter weather in Russia struck a society with 44 million people living in poverty.
"We have to structure and fund our emergency service internationally, the same way we do domestically. We don't wait until a house catches fire, then raise money for the fire department."