Date: Tue, 28 Jul 98 11:05:51 CDT
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: UN Says Number & Scale Of Natural Disasters Increasing
/** headlines: 137.0 **/
** Topic: UN Says Number & Scale Of Natural Disasters Increasing **
** Written 6:32 PM Jul 27, 1998 by econet in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 4:07 PM Jul 27, 1998 by firstname.lastname@example.org in ips.english */
/* ---------- "ENVIRONMENT: Alarming Rise in Natural Disasters" ---------- */
Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
*** 24-Jul-98 ***
Alarming Rise in Natural Disasters
By Thalif Deen, IPS
24 July 1998
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 (IPS) - The United Nations says the number,
and scale, of environmental emergencies throughout the world are
increasing at an alarming rate.
"Large scale disasters are striking whole regions," says
Secretary-General Kofi Annan whose warning is backed by an appeal
for increased international assistance to cope with the growing
In a report on U.N. humanitarian assistance, Annan says the
rash of recent natural disasters include floods in the Horn of
Africa and central and eastern Europe, forest fires in Indonesia
and Brazil, landslides in Latin America and the Caribbean, drought
in North Korea and earthquakes in Iran.
These emergencies have either displaced or rendered homeless
more than 20 million people worldwide. This is a "major challenge
to the international community," says Annan, who complains that
in many of these situations, humanitarian needs have not been
In the 12 months to early 1998, the United Nations provided
assistance to 51 member states in their efforts to cope with the
devastating impact of 77 natural disasters and environmental
From September to November 1997, parts of Brunei, Indonesia,
Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand were seriously
affected by dense haze stemming primarily from large-scale forest
fires in Indonesia. These fires were, in turn, caused by using
fire and land clearing, and aggravated by the El-Nino induced
drought conditions. The overall area under fire was about two
The floods in the Horn of Africa affected up to one million
people in Somalia alone where the death toll exceeded 2,000.
Torrential rains over central and eastern Europe in July 1997
resulted in unprecedented flooding over large areas of the Czech
Republic, Germany, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, directly
affecting some five million people. In North Korea, drought
conditions led to a devastating famine.
The U.N. report also notes that the Latin American and
Caribbean region has suffered the consequences of "the unusually
strong impact of the El-Nino phenomenon."
In Ecuador, floods, sea surges and mudslides have affected the
coastal region since September 1997. The damage to the country's
infrastructure has been estimated at 300 million dollars. In Peru,
similarly unusual weather conditions have, since the end of 1997,
produced heavy rains resulting in flooding and landslides in the
northern, central and southern parts of the country. A state of
emergency was declared in over half the country.
Iran, on the other hand, suffered a series of earthquakes early
in 1997, a third of which, in South Khorasan, was the most
damaging. More than 1,500 people lost their lives and some 50,000
were left homeless.
"Several countries have also suffered severe environmental
damage as a result of the prolonged stay on their territory of
refugees from conflicts in neighbouring countries," the report
These include deforestation, pollution of water sources, loss
of agricultural land and consequent population pressure in areas
unable to sustain it and thereby "creating long-lasting problems
which have received insufficient attention from the international
In February, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said
that agricultural production in at least six African countries -
Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea - has been
devastated by the El Nino weather pattern. The collapse of food
production had led to food shortages, and FAO has estimated that
some 10 million people currently require emergency assistance in
Margaret Wahlstrom, of the International Federation of Red
Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told a meeting of the Economic
and Social Council (ECOSOC) last week that humanitarianism was not
limited to people in conflict situations. "It involved providing
services to all those who were caught up in disasters," she said.
Wahlstrom pointed out that in an average year, there were more
than 65 million victims of floods and more than 59 million
affected by drought-induced famine. "The floods in China this
year were the worst in a generation, affecting the lives of more
than 13 million people. Such disasters would increasingly occupy
the international community," she warned.
Wahlstrom called on the international community to begin
treating natural disasters with the same degree of political and
economic urgency as wars and economic crises.
Ravi Rajan, U.N. Resident Coordinator for Indonesia, told
ECOSOC that the extensive forest fires in the country were among
the greatest of their kind in recorded history. The economic costs
may well exceed four billion dollars, he said.
"Vulnerability to such a disaster would increase in the
future," he said, "and therefore preparedness was necessary."
In his report, Annan says that while emergencies continue to
rise, contributions from donors have declined. Of the total
funding requirements of 2.8 billion dollars in 1994, for example,
nearly 80 percent was made available by donors. By 1997, the
funding requirements declined to 1.7 billion dollars, but donor
contributions amounted to only 62 percent of the targeted needs.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), one of the
largest funding agencies for humanitarian emergencies, also has
complained of declining funds. As of May 1998, UNHCR received
only half of its annual budget of 1.1 billion dollars.
"UNHCR depends almost entirely on voluntary contributions to
finance its activities, but the resources available to us have
become increasingly scarce and unpredictable," Sadako Ogata, head
of UNHCR stated recently. (END/IPS/td/mk/98)
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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