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DesInventar Open Source Initiative

The ‘silent disaster of local losses’

No longer under the radar: Smaller disasters that rarely hit the news cumulatively account for the vast majority of people affected and losses.
By Humberto Jaime

PANAMA, 27 November 2013 – Largely unreported disasters across the Americas over the past two decades account for the majority of economic losses and more than half of all disaster-related deaths, according to new findings from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

A 22-year analysis of 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean reveals that smaller, localized and more recurrent disasters that rarely, if ever, make the news cumulatively account for 90 per cent of the total number of people affected by disaster and are also responsible for 90 per cent of destruction or damage of homes.

“This is irrevocable evidence on the cumulative impact of those disasters that are small, occur locally and are often ‘invisible’,” said Ricardo Mena the Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) for the Americas.

“We urge all countries to acquire information and databases on the losses caused by these so-called ‘extensive’ disasters in addition to those medium to large ‘intensive’ disasters that are visible and make the national and international news.”

The report highlights the importance of addressing several underlying risk drivers including the rapid growth of urban populations that are highly exposed to natural hazards, and the lack of consideration of disaster risk in development planning processes across sectors.

The report draws on 83,000 historical records from 10,000 local municipalities and the analysis covers four categories: lives lost, people affected, homes destroyed and homes damaged.

It confirmed the trend of increasing exposure in terms of people affected by disasters and the escalating level of losses, especially as a result of hydro-meteorological events such as storms, flooding, landslides, heat waves, and droughts. The cost of destroyed and damaged homes is estimated at a minimum USD53 billion.

The report looked at losses between 1990 and 2011, and is produced by UNISDR and Suroccidente Seismological Observatory (OSSO) Corporation, a Colombian NGO for earth science and disaster prevention.


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