Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 98 - 99)




  98. Thank you very much for coming to give evidence today. What we are trying to look at today are: the sorts of factors that contribute to increased vulnerability; clarifying whether there are development goals that inadvertently increase vulnerability; examining the extent to which disaster mitigation and preparedness can help developing countries adapt to climate variability; and determining the capacity and institution building needs of developing countries with respect to extreme weather events and disaster mitigation and preparedness. We have a number of questions we would like to put to you. In answering the questions, if you have specific examples, those are always very helpful, or if at any time you think in relation to a question that there are policy changes that DFID or anyone else ought to be making, please do tell us. Could I ask about the World Disasters Report 2001? There seems to be some sort of debate about whether fewer people have been killed in natural disasters, even though more people are being affected. What do we learn from the World Disasters Report 2001? Mr Walter, perhaps, as you edit the World Disasters Report, you could tell us something about what it tells and what we should learn from that.

  (Mr Walter) For the first time in 2001 we divided up so-called natural disasters into hydrometeorological or weather-related and geophysical. That threw up some quite interesting results. It showed that since 1996 the number of reported hydrometeorological disasters had doubled while, throughout the decade, the number of reported geophysical disasters had remained fairly even. It also showed that over 90 per cent of those killed and affected by natural disasters were killed or affected by hydrometeorological disasters. It showed, in terms of disaster damage, that the picture is more mixed: about two-thirds of the economic damage is due to hydrometeorological disaster. So we are seeing a trend of increasing weather-related disasters, if you like, over the last decade. I have gone back to our data providers, CRED, based in Belgium in Brussels, and I have asked them to go back over the last 30 years to try and get an even clearer picture. They have reported that for natural disasters, on average in the 1970s nearly 200,000 people a year were killed. That has come down to about 80,000 a year during the 1980s and the 1990s. So actually deaths do not seem to have decreased much over the last two decades. You have to compare that with the increasing number of disasters. Relatively speaking, the numbers of people killed per reported disaster is coming down. However, in terms of people affected, the picture is very different. In the 1970s, about 73 million people on average a year were affected by natural disasters. That has gone up in the 1990s to in the region of 200 million people a year. In fact, in the year 2000, 256 million people were affected. We see a clear increase in the numbers of people affected, and we also see an increase since the 1970s in economic losses. For the 1990s compared to the 1970s there is a five-fold increase in economic losses. That is the picture from the statistical point of view.
  (Miss La Trobe) To add to that, with climate change expected to intensify, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we are going to see an intensification of floods and droughts. When you take into account the population growth and poverty, you are going to see an increased number of people affected by disasters. The level of disaster mitigation and preparedness in developing countries is going to need to be dramatically stepped up by having to cope with the situation.

Hugh Bayley

  99. If you look at the number of people affected, not the number of people killed which may be influenced by better or less good disaster responses, it appears to me to be increasing broadly in line with an increasing population. If you have a more densely populated planet and one million hectares are flooded, you would expect more people to be affected. Would it not make more sense to see what proportion of a population in at-risk areas is affected, rather than looking at straight numbers?
  (Mr Walter) That is a very good point and it is something that we also looked at for the first time in the map which goes with the 2001 report. I have a copy you can see later. We make a very simple calculation, taking the total population of every country in the world, and then we divide that by the average number of people killed and affected by natural disasters. It throws up the Solomon Islands, interestingly, as the most disaster affected country over the decade with something like 40 per cent of its population affected or killed by disasters. There is a map which shows proportionately how all the countries of the world are affected. I might add that since the 1980s, the number of people affected has gone up by nearly 50 per cent. I think that is a greater increase than the increase in the world's population.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 23 July 2002