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Date: Tue, 28 Jul 98 11:05:51 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: UN Says Number & Scale Of Natural Disasters Increasing
Article: 40031
Message-ID: <bulk.10068.19980729121517@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** 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 newsdesk@igc.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 new crisis.

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 effectively met.

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 emergencies.

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 million hectares.

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 points out.

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 community."

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 eastern Africa.

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)


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