Page last updated at 18:37 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010

Quakes 'decade's worst disasters'

Man sits amid rubble of houses destroyed by an earthquake (Image: AFP)
Earthquakes can devastate wide areas in a matter of seconds

Almost 60% of the people killed by natural disasters in the past decade lost their lives in earthquakes, a UN-backed report has revealed.

Storms were responsible for 22% of lives lost, while extreme temperatures caused 11% of deaths from 2000 to 2009.

In total, 3,852 disasters killed more than 780,000 people, according to a report by the Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).

Asia was the worst-affected continent, accounting for 85% of all fatalities.

The decade's deadliest disaster was the 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed more than 220,000 people when a series of waves devastated coastal areas around the Indian Ocean.

Cyclone Nargis, which swept across Burma in 2008 claimed 138,000 lives, while the European heatwave of 2003 was blamed for 72,000 deaths.

Data from CRED estimated that a further two billion people were affected by the catastrophes, which left a trail of destruction that cost in excess of US $960bn (£598bn).

'Be prepared'

"Earthquakes are the deadliest nature hazard of the past 10 years and remain a serious threat for millions of people worldwide," said Magareta Wahlstrom, the UN secretary general's special representative for disaster risk reduction.

Graphic (Image: BBC)

She added that eight out 10 of the world's most populous cities were located on fault lines, including Tokyo, Mexico City and Mumbai.

"Seismic risk is a permanent risk and cannot be ignored," Ms Wahlstrom told reporters.

Referring to the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January, in which up to 200,000 people are feared to have lost their lives, she said it is was essential that such widespread devastation could not be repeated.

"Risk reduction will be a main priority in [Haiti], and we will be working with our partners to ensure that it is central in the reconstruction."

It is estimated that about a third of the nation's population of nine million people have been directly affected by the aftermath of the quake.

Professor Debarati Guha-Sapir, director of CRED, said that while nothing could be done to prevent natural disasters, the degree of damage was determined by factors that could be addressed, such as urbanisation, urban planning and deforestation.

"The number of catastrophic events has more than doubled since the 1980-89 decade," he observed.

"In contrast, the number of affected people has increased at a slower rate. This may be due to better community preparedness and prevention."

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