International cooperation on humanitarian assistance in field of natural disasters, from relief to development (A/62/323): Report of the Secretary-General

Report
from UN General Assembly
Published on 07 Sep 2007
Sixty-second session

Item 73 (a) of the provisional agenda (A/62/323)
Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance: strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations

Summary

The present report has been prepared pursuant to General Assembly resolution 61/131, in which the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to continue to improve international preparedness, response and mitigation efforts in relation to disasters, and to report thereon to the Assembly at its sixty-second session. The report highlights significant trends and their humanitarian implications. It also identifies key challenges faced by the international community in improving its ability to address disasters and in strengthening the capacity of disaster-prone countries in disaster management.

I. Introduction

1. The present report has been prepared in response to General Assembly resolution 61/131. It highlights emerging trends, their implications for humanitarian action and the key challenges that need to be addressed in that respect. It concludes with a series of recommendations.

A. Trends and implications(1)

2. In 2006, 427 disasters associated with natural hazards affected approximately 143 million people and resulted in more than 23,000 deaths. Although the number of victims (persons killed and affected) decreased from 160 million in 2005 to 143 million in 2006, the frequency of disasters remained at a level similar to the 433 disasters recorded for 2005, well above the annual average of 393 for the period 2000-2004.

3. The 2006 figures conform to a trend of increasing numbers of natural hazard events. According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, from 1987 to 1997 the number of disasters varied annually between 200 and 250. Between 2000-2006, the annual average of disasters has doubled to more than 400. The rise in the total number of disasters may be attributed, in part, to improved reporting. Other factors include the effects of global warming, as outlined in the recent fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and increased concentrations of people in unsafe and hazard-prone areas.

4. The number of climate-related, or hydro-meteorological hazard events, such as floods, hurricanes and droughts, has increased dramatically over the last 20 years, both in absolute terms and in comparison with the number of geological disasters (for example volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis). From 1987 to 1998, the average number of climate-related disasters was 195. From 2000 to 2006, the average was 365, representing an increase of 87 per cent. Comparable figures for the same time period for geological disasters reflect a rise from 28 to 38, which represents an increase of 36 per cent.

5. The trend of increased volatility and extremes in climate-related events in 2006 was clearly demonstrated in Africa. The five countries worst hit by disasters in 2006 in per capita terms were all in Africa. Southern Africa suffered a combination of cyclones, flooding and drought, the greater Horn of Africa was subjected to drought and floods, while drought was widespread in the Sahel. The total number of people affected by drought increased from 30 million in 2005 to 40 million in 2006. Although approximately 14 per cent of the world's population lives in Africa, its inhabitants accounted for 50 per cent of the total drought victims in 2006.

6. Overall, Asia continued to be the continent worst affected by disasters in 2006, in terms of frequency (44 per cent of all recorded disasters), fatalities (70 per cent of the total disaster-related mortality), total numbers of people affected (more than 119 million) and economic losses. However, the effects of more extreme climate patterns were felt in all regions. In terms of excess deaths associated with extremes in both summer and winter temperatures, four countries in Europe ranked among the top 10 in 2006.

7. Floods and related disasters were the most frequent type of hazard event in 2006 (with 254 reported) accounting for more than 59 per cent of all recorded disasters. Floods, windstorms and associated disasters had the highest human impact, accounting for 69 per cent of the recorded 143 million victims in 2006.

8. The cumulative economic impact of disasters associated with natural hazards has been recognized as a key factor challenging the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Although the reported economic damage caused by disasters in 2006 was comparatively low at $19 billion, the annual average between 1987 and 2006 was $50 billion for hydro-meteorological disasters and just under $20 billion for geological disasters. That estimate does not factor in the economic and social costs of setbacks to development efforts, including an aggravation of the poverty situation in countries hard-hit by disasters. In developing countries, rebuilding in the wake of major disasters can consume a large proportion of national budgets and significantly slow down growth. External support for recovery is often inadequate, as exemplified by the experience of the Maldives, where, according to government authorities, losses after the 2004 tsunami accounted for more than 62 per cent of total gross domestic product (GDP). The Government requested more than $1.5 billion in external aid to help with rebuilding, but only a fraction of this was received.

Note:

(1) Data in the introduction are drawn from the Office of the United States Foreign Disaster Assistance/Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters International Disaster Database, Université Catholique de Louvain, Brussels (http://www.em-dat.net); for methodological reasons they cover the calendar year 2006. Data in subsequent sections refer to the reporting period: 1 June 2006-31 May 2007.